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.
As a first world nation, it is easy to assume that all Canadian tap water will be pure and perfect. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily the case. Although Canadian water does rival the water quality of U.S supplies, our regulations are less stringent, which means that the contaminants inside the pipes of the northern part of our continent may not be identified as quickly as those in the water of our southern neighbors. The number of contaminants living in tap water is vast. Even here in Canada, there are issues with contaminants and outbreaks of waterborne illnesses. Canada reported 288 disease outbreaks caused by consuming contaminated water between 1974 and 2001 and the Canadian government has estimated that contaminated water is the source of 90,000 cases of illness and 90 deaths each year.
Awareness and Action
In the year 2000, an outbreak of E.Coli contaminated the water supply in Walkerton, Ontario. This resulted in the death of seven residents and 2,300 infected. When the incident was investigated, it was determined that physical, bureaucratic factors and improper practices that were responsible for the outbreak.
In the spring of 2001, the North Battleford, Saskatchewan water treatment plant failed leading to 5800 to 7100 residents falling ill. Just a few years later, the residents of Kashechewan in Ontario needed to be evacuated over contaminated water and the potential health issues that could be caused with the imminent threat of flooding.
With this catalogue of issues and incidents across the country, Canadian water quality issues has garnered some attention. These tragedies are prompting greater awareness and triggering action to promote safer tap water for all Canada’s residents today.
Water is an extremely effective solvent, so while it absorbs beneficial minerals, it can also absorb the bad particles that may be flowing through the same pipes. The diverse Canadian landscape means that geography can be a factor in whether you receive good or poor water quality supplies at your home. For example, if you live in an area close to the Great Lakes, you may experience a high concentration of industrial chemicals in your water that will need to be purified. Provinces and territories nearer to the coast may experience a higher sodium concentration due to the intrusion of saltwater into the pipes and infrastructure.
Although the issues facing Canada’s water supplies are far less egregious compared to many areas in the world, it is still a matter of concern.
Another risk to Canadian water quality is an aging infrastructure, which can result in water contamination and wasted water. In a national survey, aging infrastructure such as water treatment plants and pipelines was ranked as the top risk by Canadian water service providers. According to a Federation of Canadian Municipalities Infrastructure Report in 2016, the wastewater and drinking water infrastructure is in such poor condition that it would cost an estimated $51 billion to replace. Unfortunately, it is a challenge to generate this massive sum. According to reports, Canadians only pay 70% of the true cost of water on their bills and are likely to complain to an elected official if the rates are increased.
This is further compounded in rural communities, where the shrinking tax base means that they are less equipped to pay for infrastructure upgrades or even attracted qualified personnel to manage these assets.
So, What’s in the Water?
While Canada is home to 7% of the renewable fresh water of the world, the water flowing through our pipes carries a variety of materials that can affect the water quality. Health Canada has produced guidelines for 75 substances that can be found in Canadian tap water. Two of the most common you’re likely to encounter include:
Chlorine: This chemical is used throughout the world to disinfect water supplies against bacteria and pathogens. Chlorine has been used as a method of killing diseases for centuries, but many consumers may only think of it as a pool cleaner. Chlorine is added as a final stage of water treatment at municipal facilities, but the treatment program requires sufficient chlorine to ensure that the water is free of pathogens and bacteria right up to your tap. This can result in traces of chlorine lingering in your water supply, creating an unpalatable “swimming pool” smell and taste.
Additionally, chlorine has a potent nature that changes the water as it destroys certain contaminants. In fact, this chemical is thought to cause more detrimental health risks from consumption than previously thought. Chlorine has been linked to a number of health risks, and studies show that the cancer risk in people drinking chlorinated water is a massive 93% higher than those with a non chlorinated water supply.
Pharmaceuticals: Whether you’re taking medication regularly for a medical condition or as a temporary treatment, you’re likely to take your pills with water to help the drug get absorbed into your system. Unfortunately, the human body is extremely good at filtering everything we consume, and some of the medications you take will be flushed out when you urinate. When you flush your toilet, the water joins the other waste water from your home to be channeled to your local water treatment plant. Unfortunately, while your treatment plant may be highly efficient at removing many contaminants, some of this drug residue may remain after treatment to get into tap water supplies. We are seeing evidence of this in nature, with many ecosystems affected by pharmaceutical chemicals. Traces of hormones from birth control medication has been documented as impacting frogs, fish and other marine life, reducing male sperm production and even intersexing of some species. Considering the massive number of pharmaceutical drugs on the market, it is almost impossible to be aware of how they may be infecting our water supplies.
Fortunately, there are some highly effective ways to protect your water supply. There are a number of domestic water treatment systems and devices that can be tailored to reduce or eliminate potentially harmful contaminants in your tap water.