Can you drink Montreal tap water

Can you drink Montreal tap water

The question of whether is safe to drink in Montreal tap water has been a major concern for millions of Montrealers. Despite strict water testing and the City assuring that tap water is safe, other alarming reports on contamination in the Saint-Laurent river, as well as warnings about lead in older buildings, seem to contradict the City’s claims.

Let’s be clear, before the Saint Laurent water reaches your faucet, it is treated. Regardless, it is worth noting that heavy industrialization around Montreal, as well as lax regulations in terms of pesticides, have resulted in cases of surface water contamination. Moreover, many buildings still use aging lead pipe connections to connects to the main water network. Post-war houses, built between 1940 and 1950 as well as in buildings with 8 or less apartments built before 1970, are prone to having lead connections.

The Direction Régionale de Santé Publique, recommends using some sort of filtration system in order to remove lead. A coconut carbon block filter such as TAPP will remove lead, pesticides as well as bad taste and smell coming from Chlorine (used to disinfect).

Where does Montreal tap water come from?

In order to understand your drinking water, it’s important to start by understanding where your water comes from, as well as the steps which lead it to your home or office faucet.

There are a total of six filtration plants with a total daily capacity equivalent to 800 Olympic swimming pools! These treatment plants take their water from lake Saint-Louis, the Rivière-des-Prairies delta or the Saint-Laurent river. 88% of their combined capacity come from Charles-J. Des Baillets and Atwater plants, which get their water from the Saint-Laurent river.

First, debris are removed, then the water is filtered through sand, disinfected by ozonation and chlorine is added. The terms for the treatment of drinking water as well as standards and requirements of quality control are established by the Regulation respecting the quality of drinking water, adopted by the Government of Quebec in 2001.

What is in Montreal tap water and who regulates it?

Despite regulations on water quality, it is difficult to predict the exact composition of water coming out of your faucet. Lead, very commonly used in buildings, as well as less regulated substance, such as pesticides, may be present in the water. Atrazine, for example, a pesticide that is very commonly used in Canada remains below the Canadian maximum limits, but well beyond the European standards, which ban its use.

In Canada, tap water is regulated by the Federal Agency, who delegates control to municipalities, and forces them to publish their results. The City of Montreal samples more than 60 contaminants. However, when it comes to bottled water, neither regulations nor ministries directives specify how and how often water should be sampled. The latter is considered a food and is therefore subject to the “Food and Drugs Act.’’ Bottling plants are inspected annually by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), while municipal water is tested several times a day. In addition, except for arsenic, lead, and coliform, the Food Act does not provide limits on other contaminants, simply citing that water may not contain ‘poisonous or harmful substances’. No law requires water bottle companies to publish reports on water quality. Moreover, according to water research by OrbMedia microplastics were found in tap water all over the world. 

To sum up, tap water is much more regulated than bottled water. If you want to know the composition of your water, tap water is your safest bet.

In order to be on the safe side – with lead, to remove bad taste and smell linked with chlorine, or to be ready for potential contaminants which are still under-regulated – a carbon block filter like TAPP could be a good option. TAPP removed lead, microplastics, pesticides, chlorine and its byproducts as well as reducing nitrates and arsenic.

Drinking water in public places and restaurants

In Montreal, it is very easy to ask for water at a bar or a restaurant. Very few places refuse. It may happen in some very rare cases, that a restaurant forces patrons to buy a bottle. No law prohibits them to do so, but that would be very poorly looked upon.  With respect to water fountains or bubblers, they can be found in most parks. Unfortunately, they are often poorly maintained and many only operate in the summer. It is very advisable to go out with a reusable water bottle.

On the other hand, drinking fountains are pretty rare in Montreal. Due to the lack of trust in tap water, many have become obsolete throughout the years. It is highly recommended to take a reusable water bottle along with you. Use the MyTAPP app (iOS and Android) to find refill stations around you.

Bottled water

Tap water is perfectly safe for most Canadians. Despite this, the bottled water industry generates $2.5 billion in sales, mainly through Nestlé and its brands: Pure Life, Perrier, S. Pellegrino, Acqua Panna or Montclair.  Quebecers alone use 700 million plastic bottles a year.

Plastic bottles can take up to 400 years to decompose. Most of those that are not recycled, end up abroad – generating more greenhouse gas. The good news is that according to the Canadian Beverage Association, about 70% of all PET bottles are recycled. Quebec runs a bottle bill, as well as municipal curbside recycling programs. If a soft drink or a beer bottle has the ‘‘Québec Consignée XX¢ Refund’’ label on it, it can be returned to the store, and you will be refunded between ¢5 and ¢20. When it comes to bottled water, they are not part of the bottle bill. Recyclable materials such as plastic bottles (except if made out of No. 6 plastics – polystyrene) may be placed unsorted in the collection tool since all materials will be collected together in the truck. It is not necessary to separate paper and cardboard from other recyclable materials such as plastic, glass, and metal.

Not only does bottled water have a negative environmental impact, it is interesting to note that it costs more than gasoline per gallon. Moreover, in 25% of cases, bottled water is just filtered municipal water sold at a premium according to the Canadian Bottled Water Association.  A recent study by McGill University tested a sampling of Aquafina, Dasani, Eska, Naya and Nestle Pure Life brands. They found microplastics in each brand, including Eska water which comes in a glass bottle.

To reduce your environmental footprint, the best solution is to use reusable bottles and fill them with tap water or filtered tap water. Use the MyTAPP app (iOS and Android) to find refill stations around you.

Using a filter like TAPP, you will never need to use any plastic linked with your water consumption. When it’s time to change the filter, dispose of its biodegradable refill cartridge with organic waste.

Conclusion

    • Almost 90% of all water in Montreal comes from the St. Laurent. Other sources are lake Saint-Louis, the Rivière-des-Prairies delta.
    • Water is safe to drink according to criteria established by the Federal Agency.
    • Bottled water is considered a food, and is subject to the “Food and Drugs Act.”, which does not define strict criteria.
    • Chlorine which is added to the water for disinfection can be removed with a carbon-block filter
    • Lead, leaching from old infrastructure, often present in post-war houses, built between 1940 and 1950 as well as in buildings with 8 or less apartments built before 1970, can be removed using a carbon-block filter
    • Bottled water often comes from municipal tap water, and is often more expensive than gasoline per gallon
    • Water bottles are not part of the bottle bill. If you must, choose bottles not made out of Plastic #6, and leave them on the curbside with other recycled goods.
    • Water fountains or bubblers are often poorly maintained and many only operate in the summer. It is very advisable to go out with a reusable water bottle.

Do you drink tap water in Montreal? We want your feedback and opinion. Agree or disagree? Tell us!

(cet article est aussi disponible en français)

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6 thoughts on “Can you drink Montreal tap water”

  1. Since I have been in Canada I drink
    filtered tap water or imported Mineral water
    Tap water everywhere tastes like you have just washed your foot in it.
    Be alert.

  2. Great guide. But I think in many cases a more sustainable solution — as opposed to getting plastic-made filters every few months — is to eliminate the sources of the problem.

    As noted in the article, Montreal’s municipal water is considered one of the best in North America, so many of the problems might actually come from the pipes from our own building, hot water tank, or the makeup of the faucet themselves. These can be improved by changing up the odd pipes, avoiding industrial insulating chemicals, choosing better valves, minimalistically efficient hot water tank or even changing to more modern water faucets.

    1. Very good point Thomas!
      By drinking directly from the tap is the most sustainable solution.
      A filter is useful for example in cases of old buildings where the owners don’t agree on investing in newer pipes or cleaning the old ones.
      Best,
      The TAPP team

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