Canada has many natural resources that greatly improve the country’s living standards. With 7 percent of the world’s renewable freshwater, Canada offers no shortage of drinking water. And yet, despite this massive wealth, Canada’s tap water has been found to be substandard on multiple occasions when it comes to public health:
- Lead levels in the drinking water of major cities across the country (including Oakville) were discovered to have exceeded safe levels in 2019, affecting hundreds of thousands of homes.
- Drinking water in Toronto and Montreal were found to contain popular herbicide atrazine in 2017 at levels that are banned in Europe.
- Canada’s worst-ever E. coli outbreak took place in Walkerton, Ontario in 2000. Seven people died and 2,300 residents fell ill after the town’s water treatment facility was compromised.
Even now, Canada does not have a national standard for drinking water. At most, it is the responsibility of individual jurisdictions to follow Health Canada’s recommended guidelines as they see fit. As a result, water standards are applied unevenly throughout the country.
Just what exactly is coming out of your taps and into your home? Here’s a rundown of the top contaminants that can be found in the tap water of your home:
Lead continues to be a problem in drinking water despite being banned years ago. It was used to solder pipes in post-war homes, and remained in use until as recently as 1990. This means that even if your local water supply is completely clean, a home with lead pipes will contaminate its own drinking water.
A 2017 government report estimates that as many as 500,000 Canadian homes are affected by lead pipes.
Lead is a toxic metal that can harm health even at low doses. It poses the highest risk to children where it has been linked with low IQ. Lead contamination has been associated with hypertension and heart disease.
Chlorine has been used to disinfect water around the world for over a century. It is a powerful oxidant used in water filtration processes to kill bacteria, viruses and parasites (pathogens) that cause water-borne infections.
In small concentrations, chlorine is not known to harm human health. However, chlorine levels in tap water may fluctuate throughout the year, often becoming noticeable by smell or taste when exceeding the WHO recommended limit of 5 mg/L.
Chlorine can cause health issues like stomach aches, vomiting, and diarrhea when ingested. It has been known to cause dry, itchy skin, especially after a shower or bath.
Another issue with chlorine has to do with a secondary disinfectant. Chlorine and chloramine are known to combine with naturally occurring materials to form disinfectant byproducts (DBP’s). DBP’s are a suspected carcinogen that has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory testing.
Normally reserved for farmland, pesticides may sometimes find their way into the local drinking water as runoff after heavy rain and irrigation. In this way, compounds like nitrates and phosphates can quickly infiltrate an area’s groundwater and contaminate a large geographical area.
With so many different pesticides, their impact on human health can be diverse. Pesticides can affect different parts of the body such as the nervous system, skin, eyes, hormones, or may even be carcinogenic.
In recent years, the herbicide that has gained the most attention for contaminating drinking water is atrazine. Known for changing male frogs into egg-laying females, this widely-used weed killer for corn crops is known to have entered the drinking water in areas around the world.
“Atrazine is the number one contaminant found in drinking water in the U.S. and probably globally probably in the world”, said University of California Berkeley, scientist Tyrone Hayes.
Due to its disruption on hormones, atrazine is commonly associated with pregnant women giving birth to premature and low-birth-weight babies. Other studies suggest a possible association with ovarian, breast and prostate cancers and birth defects.
5. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
The biggest danger about VOCs is how ubiquitous and adaptable they are. They’re commonplace in industry, agriculture, transportation, and can be found in ordinary household items. What’s more, they have the ability to vaporize into air as easily as they dissolve into water.
Even worse, many VOCs are persistent once they enter groundwater sources, even migrating to drinking-water supply wells.
VOCs can impact human health in a number of ways. They can cause short-term symptoms like shortness of breath, headaches, and eye, nose and throat irritation, and may cause organ and brain damage in high concentrations.
6. Microbial Cysts
Microbial cysts are tiny, protozoan parasites protected by a membrane wall that make people sick if ingested. They can be found in lakes and rivers, and enter water systems through sewage, leaking septic tanks, and feedlot runoff.
What makes cysts so dangerous is that they are resistant to the water disinfection process, making them a constant threat to tap water safety.
A person infected from a microbial cyst may experience symptoms such as mild nausea and intestinal distress such as diarrhea. It may even result in death for infants and immunocompromised individuals suffering from dehydration and respiratory infections.
7. Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE)
Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether is an oxygenate that helps improve the efficiency of gasoline. MTBE enters the water system through leaking underground storage tanks and pipelines, spills, and emissions from marine engines into lakes and reservoirs.
MTBE can be harmful to your health when consumed at unsafe levels. Short-term effects include nervous system effects, dizziness, headaches, nausea, and throat irritation.
Microplastics are small pieces of plastic that measure less than 5 millimetres long. Although they are usually associated with polluting the world’s oceans, they are also known to have infiltrated our drinking water. A recent OrbMedia study said that 80 percent of samples collected from tap water from 14 countries were found to contain tiny plastic particles.
As studies continue to explore the effects of microplastics on human health, some studies are already showing that they pose many health risks. These include metabolic disturbances, neurotoxicity, and increased cancer risk in humans.
As we see, your drinking water could be contaminated by any number of these common contaminants. Without properly testing your home’s tap water, you could be compromising the health of your family.
Want to know you and your family are at risk? Discover the true water quality in your home by scheduling a Home Assessment Test with Healthy Home Makeovers! Get a 90-minute, multi-point inspection that thoroughly inspects any location for harmful environmental factors that could negatively impact human health.