With more than 30 years’ experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Mark Nelson is a Class 1 Drinking-Water Operator and a CBWA (Canadian Bottled Water Association) Certified Plant Operator. As founder and president of Nelson Water in Ottawa, Mark focuses on dealing with challenging water treatment system designs for problem water. He also heads the largest water bottling plant in the city of Ottawa with a delivery network throughout the Valley.

When many people think about E. coli, they think about cases of food poisoning, but these bacteria can actually live in water. While there are scenarios where certain foods can contain illness causing E. coli, this coliform is also found in water supplies. It is invisible to the naked eye and doesn’t alter the appearance, taste or odor of your water. So, here is some information you may need to know to ensure that your water is safe from E. Coli contamination.

The E. Coli Basics

Escherichia coli, or E. coli, is a diverse grouping of bacteria that are found in foods and the environment. E. coli is also found in the intestines of mammals including humans. Certain forms of E. coli can cause stomach upsets, while others can cause respiratory conditions, urinary tract problems and other types of illness.

Ecoli In Our Water

One of the common ways to come into contact with E. coli is through water contamination. E. coli can be present in animal and human waste, and this matter can be washed into rivers, lakes, streams and the groundwater. When these water sources are not adequately treated, it can allow E. coli to infiltrate drinking water supplies. Public water systems are required to notify consumers if contaminants such as E. coli have been detected in supplies. This will result in a boil order, as the water is not deemed safe. The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that water be at a rolling boil for at least one minute when a boil order has been issued. This provides sufficient heat to kill any viruses, protozoa and bacteria such as E. coli that may be present in the water. 

Actions for E. coli Contaminated Water

If you discover that your water supply contains E. coli, you will need to avoid drinking tap water immediately. This also means discontinuing use of tap water for preparing food, making ice, brushing your teeth, mixing baby formula or any other activities that require ingesting water. You will need to discard any ice cubes that have been prepared with potentially contaminated water, and you should use bottled or pre-boiled water for your pets. In most cases, contaminated water is still fine for bathing and laundry, as you will not be consuming any tap water.

Does Your Water Contain E. coli?

If your water is from a municipal supply, your utility company will notify you if any contaminants like E. coli have been detected. If you have a private well water supply, the responsibility of ensuring your water is safe is your own.

Fortunately, there are water treatment specialists and professional labs that can test your water supply for hundreds of potential contaminants to ensure that your water is safe. If any contaminants are detected, you will need to consider a domestic water treatment device to ensure that your water supply is safe to drink. There is a wide range of options on the market, and your water specialist can advise you of the systems best suited to your specific needs. In the case of E. coli contamination, there are filtration systems and UV treatment devices that can effectively eliminate any traces of the bacteria from your water supply. Be sure to consult with a water treatment professional for more details.