How Safe is Canadian Tap Water?

Posted on July 30, 2021

Clean water is a necessity. Nearly 800 million people lack basic drinking water services. Contaminated drinking water kills 485,000 people through diarrhea alone. 

Many Canadians think contaminated water is a "third-world problem." But there are many communities in Canada that struggle with water contaminants, especially lead. To keep yourself safe, you need to know about Canadian tap water. 

What guidelines control tap water safety, and who works on clean drinking water? Is tap water safe to drink in Canada? What should you do to get clean water? 

Answer these questions and you can avoid devastating ailments. Here is your quick guide. 

Health Canada's Role in Regulating Tap Water 

Tap water regulations are complicated. In order to develop your own water safety plan, you need to know what they are and who enforces them.

Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines 

The Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality serve as the basis for tap water safety in Canada. There are three categories of parameters that Health Canada focuses on. 

The first is microbiological contaminants. Viruses and bacteria like E.coli must be systematically removed from water sources. The Guidelines recommend that water companies use disinfection and distribution systems that resist contamination. 

The second category is chemical and physical components. Substances like boron and cadmium can affect the human body if consumed in large enough amounts. Other substances like aluminum and chloride are non-toxic, but they can affect the taste of water. 

This means that water companies must engage in many different practices. They must perform chemical tests on their water to see what is inside. They must examine if their pipes are corroding and releasing substances into the supply. 

The third category is radiological materials. Radionuclides can release radiation that causes cancers.

Many substances like tritium are hard to remove from water. Companies must track where they are getting groundwater and natural reserves from. If they take water from locations near radioactive fallout, they should go somewhere else. 

These guidelines are prone to change. Visit the Canadian government's website to see what the latest regulations are. 

What Health Canada Does 

Health Canada is a federal institution that falls under the Health Portfolio. It has many different duties, including assisting with the response to COVID-19. But one of its seminal duties is overseeing drinking water regulations. 

The organization falls a multi-barrier approach to ensure clean drinking water. It tracks how water flows from the intake to the tap.

Building a new system means that a company must examine if the source water is of good quality. They must sample the water from multiple locations, hitting targets for decontamination. 

Drinking water treatment systems must have automated technology that detects toxin levels. If levels are too high, the water supply must be shut down. Municipalities should have alternative sources of water, especially in remote areas. 

Health Canada does not do its work alone. It collaborates with the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Committee on Drinking Water, along with a number of federal departments. Municipalities are also required to test their own water on a regular basis. 

Tap Water Lead Contamination Across Canada 

Global News released a report in October 2019. They compiled the efforts of more than 120 journalists from 19 different institutions, including Concordia University.

They examined 12,000 tests across 11 cities. One-third of the tests showed results that exceeded national safety guidelines for lead consumption.  

One reason was a lack of oversight. Many municipalities stated that they did not know where lead service lines were in their jurisdictions. Some did not even have requirements to conduct lead tests. 

The Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities released a report on lead levels in 2017. They found that roughly 500,000 homes have lead service lines. This is especially the case in remote, small, and First Nations communities. 

But the report from Global News confirms problems in major cities. Roughly half of the tests in Toronto showed lead levels above the provincial standards in 2008. 

Lead contamination can have very significant problems. Lead can create brain damage, especially in children. They can develop behavioral problems and lose IQ points. 

The government has taken steps to reduce levels of lead contamination. Homes cannot have lead pipes for drinking water. Older pipes are being replaced with new ones that resist corrosion. 

Bottled Water vs Canadian Tap Water 

The high lead levels have led many people to buy bottled water. Bottled water can be safer than tap water. 

The Food and Drugs Act provides regulations for bottled water. The Act considers it to be food, meaning it must be carefully treated. Companies must follow a battery of quality standards and manufacturing practices. 

Health Canada also plays a role in regulations. They examine the materials used in packaging, determining if the plastic is safe. 

Some people on the Internet assert that chemicals in plastic bottles can enter the water. That is not accurate. Even long exposure to sunlight does not produce enough heat to allow chemicals to leak. 

But bottled water can pose some safety risks. Bacteria can grow on the plastic itself. When a person touches their lips to it, they can become infected. 

"Mineral" or "spring" water comes from some source underground. It may not be as safe as other forms of bottled water. 

The biggest problem with bottled water is its cost. Cheap products that you buy in bulk from major chains may cost a few cents. But a bottle you buy from a vending machine can cost several dollars. 

Tap water costs less than one cent per litre. You can drink several glasses, boil your meals, and go for a bath and spend less. 

Bottled water is also detrimental to the environment. The majority of bottles go to landfills, and it takes centuries for plastic to decompose. Chemicals can leak into the ground, affecting soil and plant growth. 

What You Can Do to Stay Safe

Bottled water is one way you can stay safe. But it is an imperfect solution to a complicated problem. You need to adopt several approaches in order to have clean drinking water. 

Replace Your Pipes 

Most homes built before the 1970s contain lead pipes. Call a plumber and have them do an inspection on all of your pipes. If they find lead ones, you can have them replaced. Some municipal governments offer financial assistance so you can pay for this. 

Keep in mind that you are responsible for the piping on your side of the property line. A service line may run off your property and connect to a faraway water main.

This means that you can only replace part of the pipe. You should contain your city to get the other part of the pipe replaced.

Buy a Water Filter System 

If replacing your pipes is too complicated, you can get a water filtration system instead. You can pour your tap into a water filter pitcher, or you can attach filters onto your taps. 

Some filters specialize in removing lead, but you can find ones that remove other toxins. It is difficult for filtration systems to remove bacteria because they are small and do not bind to the filters. Do your research if you encounter one that claims to be anti-bacterial. 

Change your filters every few months or so. Substances can gather in them and spread into your water. Never drink directly out of your pitcher. 

Follow Boil-Water Ordinances 

Boil-water ordinances can come at any moment. A pipe or dam may break, spreading pathogens into the water. A natural disaster can damage pipes and overwhelm protection systems. Start keeping track of weather events that can impact your water. 

Check your local government's website every day. You should also check your text messages to see if you have a notification from them. 

You should follow ordinances without deviation. Do not use any unboiled tap water for any purpose, including washing food or brushing your teeth. Even one drop can get you sick. 

Bring your water to a rolling boil before using it. Bubbles should float to the surface continuously. When you stir the water, they should continue to appear. 

An ordinance is a situation where you can use bottled water. Keep a few bottles on hand in case of an emergency. 

If you are camping near Toronto, you should boil your water. Do not rely on the city's pipes, and do not assume that moving water means there are no toxins. Build a fire and boil your supply for a few minutes. 

What You Must Know About Canadian Tap Water

Canadian tap water isn't pristine. Health Canada has a long list of guidelines to make drinking water safe. They remove contaminants and harmful substances that can harm the brain and heart. 

One major concern is lead. Half a million old homes have lead service lines, putting residents at risk for contamination. 

Buying bottled water can help, though it is expensive. Residents should remove their lead pipes and invest in filters. Boiling water can remove viruses and bacteria. 

Life insurance can protect you if you get sick. Insurdinary lets you compare the rates of different companies. Get your quotes today. 

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