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.

Over the years, we have become accustomed to having a supply of clean water delivered directly to our homes. Many of the water treatment systems that were developed in the late 19th and early 20th Century are still in use today. Around the world, many people don’t have access to clean drinking water, and they are exposed to waterborne illnesses that can be fatal. Access to clean drinking water is essential for life, but in recent years there have been cases where the quality of water supplied to our homes has been called into question. In this article, we will look at some common pollutants found in tap water and look at how you can remove them for good.

Standards for Tap Water

Every Canadian water supplier has to adhere to a strict standard to ensure the cleanliness of the water that they supply to the public. These standards are usually upheld, but routine testing can reveal problems, and the results of these tests are available to the public. If you live in an area where there a number of violations or the water is low in quality, it makes sense to take control of your own water treatment. Installing a water filtration system will secure a supply of clean water for your home, and adding a water softener will make your water soft and easier to use.

Common Tap Water Pollutants 

Many of our water treatment plants use processes that cannot catch every pollutant in our public water supplies. Some of these contaminants were not even around when chlorine was first used to disinfect our drinking water. These can leave us at risk; any tap water could contain a number of different pollutants that may have an adverse effect on our health. Let’s take a look at some of the most common pollutants that may be present in our tap water.


There are nitrogen based chemical compounds in common use in agriculture and home gardening products. Nitrogen is an effective fertiliser, but it can leach into the soil and make its way into our drinking water supplies. When there is a heavy runoff, nitrogen can overwhelm an already overworked water treatment facility. This can lead to mistreatment, and this will allow even more nitrogen to enter our water supply system. When water contains elevated levels of nitrogen, it can lead to a bloom in algae growth inside the water system. Drinking water with elevated levels of nitrogen is also harmful to babies because it can cause disruption to their bloodstream.

Inorganic Contaminants (IOC)

An inorganic contaminant is a type of pollution that’s caused by naturally occurring chemicals. Some typical IOCs would include chemicals, such as mercury, lead, cyanide, and arsenic (more on this later). The would also include certain chemicals used in certain production processes and agricultural pollutants, such as copper, lead, iron, nitrates, and zinc. Many of these pollutants, such as copper and zinc, are required as part of a balanced human diet in minute quantities and ingesting higher doses is not advisable. Other IOCs listed here such as lead and cyanide should be avoided at all costs and ingesting them in any quantity is unwise.

Arsenic (As)

Arsenic occurs naturally; it’s present in many minerals, but it can occur in a pure crystal form. Arsenic is used in lead alloys to create lead batteries and ammunition, and it’s the second most used material for semi-conductors in electronic devices after silicon. Arsenic is also used to make pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides. This is a deadly toxic chemical when ingested in high concentrations, which would be an unusual occurrence in most drinking water systems. Arsenic usually makes its way into our drinking water systems through natural runoff and ingesting it should be avoided if possible.

Disinfection Byproducts (DBPs)

It’s not uncommon to encounter DBPs in domestic water supply systems. After all, these chemicals are created during the water treatment processes. Disinfection chemicals, such as chloramine, chlorine, and other oxidizing chemicals that are used to disinfect microbial contaminations, all create DBPs. The DBPs in your water supply may give your water an unpalatable taste, and they significantly degrade the quality of the water coming into your home. There are other methods to treat water that don’t use these chemicals, but that would require significant investment, and it’s not likely that we will see these technologies implemented any time soon. For this reason, many homeowners invest in other water treatment systems that use activated carbon or reverse osmosis and other methods to improve their own water quality at home.

Coliform Bacteria

This is a common bacterial pollutant that is found in many water supply systems. A coliform bacteria will not cause a major illness, but it can cause minor unpleasant health issues, and it is a clear indicator that there are other problems in the water supply. Coliform is found in the digestive tracts of animals and fecal matter. It can make its way into our water supply from runoff in agricultural areas where animals are raised. Another possible vector is cracks and breaks in water distribution pipes where coliform bacteria can enter.


A radionuclide is also know as a radioactive nuclide, radioactive isotope or a radioisotope. A radionuclide is an atom with excess nuclear energy that makes it unstable, some typical examples, include Cesium-137, Radium-226, and Strontium-90. This may sound alarming, but radioactive materials are naturally occurring in our soil, and they can leach into our water supplies through erosion and runoff. Any radioactive materials can cause cancer and many other health problems in high concentration, and there is no safe limit to ingest these pollutants.

Getting Cleaner Water for Your Home

Most of the time, the water supplied to our taps is of an acceptable standard. But, any break in the line, excessive runoff from a storm or a number of different situations can affect the quality of our drinking water supplies. If you’re not sure about the quality of your water, you can carry out a water test to confirm your suspicions. Fortunately, there are many water treatment systems available to treat every water quality problem.