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Inadequate Testing of Municipal Drinking Water

You might think that your municipal water is completely safe because the city tests for and filter out or otherwise treat all health-threatening pollutants, but a recent CBC investigation revealed that is not always the case.

Although there are national Health Canada guidelines for testing water quality which enumerate 75 separate things to test for, these guidelines are voluntary, and not every province - and the municipalities which report to them - implement every one, particularly if they believe there is not a significant likelihood of a given pollutant actually occurring in that region to warrant the expense.

Only one city (Ottawa) routinely tests for all 75 contaminants, and while several (Calgary, Edmonton and Halifax) tested for all but one, and two more test for nearly all of them (73 in Montreal, and 72 in Vancouver), a number of cities tested for only a select subset of them, ranging from a somewhat worrying 62 (83%) all the way down to a disconcerting 20 out of 75 (27%).

Apart from St. John’s, Newfoundland (which had only tested for a third of the substances, but has now decided to test for all of them, in the wake of this investigation), the number of contaminants not being tested for in the cities which were covered in this investigation and some of their most significant types are as follows:

Toronto: 4 contaminants not tested for, including two that would not be removed by their disinfecting process but are known to have the risk of causing kidney effects such as nephritis and nephrosis: MCPA-2 (a widely used herbicide) and nitrilotriacetic acid (or NTA, which has been used as a water softener and descaler in boilers, among other things).

Quebec City and Saskatoon: 13 and 14 contaminants not tested for, respectively; including N-Nitrosodimethylamine, a sewage treatment plant effluent that is a possible carcinogen and poses a risk of liver cancer.

Windsor: 16 contaminants not tested for, including Nitrilotriacetic acid, a sewage contaminant that poses risks of kidney effects including nephritis and nephrosis; and Ethylbenzene, which can come from petroleum or chemical industries, which poses risks of liver or pituitary gland effects.

Regina and Charlottetown: 23 contaminants not tested for, including Nitrite, which can be naturally occurring, or can be a run-off from agricultural fertilizer use, which is a possible carcinogen and poses a risk of ‘blue baby syndrome’. 

Winnipeg: 26 contaminants not tested for, including Cyanide, an industrial or mining effluent, which is poisonous and can cause hypersensitivity, asthma, or bronchitis in smaller doses.

Fredericton: 46 contaminants not tested for, including Enteric Protozoa, which are found in human and animal feces, and can cause gastrointestinal disease. 

The practices of several Northern communities were queried, including Whitehorse (42 contaminants not tested for), Yellowknife (52 contaminants not tested for), and Iqaluit (which does not test for 55 of the 75 contaminants, although it does disinfect the water with ultraviolet light).

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If you’re looking for even more detailed information on water purification, be sure to check out Nathan Zassman’s article on water as well as his comprehensive look at the different drinking water filtering and purifying technologies. Need a filtration solution for municipal, lake or well water? We offer water purification systems for a variety of applications and water types.

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