Tap water in Canada is generally safe to drink. With 0.5% of the world’s population and 9% of the world’s freshwater resources, Canadian metropolises enjoy continuous access to clean and high-quality water. This abundance of water, combined with 44% of the population not being metered, means Canada is one of the countries with the highest per capita consumption of water.  

While clean drinking water is a given for many Canadians, First Nation communities are unfortunately left behind, with for example the Neskantaga First Nation in Ontario, where residents have been boiling their water for 20 years!

But First Nation communities are not the only ones affected by occasional contamination. Every year an average of 500 boil water advisories are issued. 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 substances, 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. Although the health impact has not yet been evaluated, microplastics have also been found in most municipal tap water.

To be on the safe side, it is recommended to use an easy-to-install and affordable carbon filter like TAPP. TAPP uses biodegradable refills and filters out over 80 known contaminants including lead, pesticides, microplastics, as well as chlorine responsible for bad taste and odor.

Who regulates tap water in Canada?

Tap water in Canada is regulated by Health Canada, which is responsible for national public health. The provinces and territories are responsible for the development and the enforcing of legislation applicable to public water supplies.

By working with the provincial and territorial governments, Health Canada sets out the maximum acceptable concentrations of contaminants in drinking water, known as The Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. These guidelines encompass a wide variety of contaminants including microbiological, chemical and radiological as well as organoleptic properties such as taste and odour.

Lastly, municipalities are in charge of testing their water supply to make sure they are compliant.

Contaminants in tap water

Despite efforts to regulate and enforce water guidelines, there have been multiple examples of municipal water being contaminated. This can be either biological (remember the 2000 E. coli bacteria outbreak in Walkerton, Ontario), or chemical (atrazine pesticide with levels 50x above EU standards have been found in both Toronto and Montreal’s drinking water in 2017).

Lead is another major concern for many homes. Although now banned, lead was used to solder pipes together as recently as 1990. Tens of thousands of households in Canada still have lead leaching via their pipes. Canadian municipalities, now have replaced the great majority of pipes in the street, but the pipes going from the demarcation point to your house might still be toxic.

Microplastics, although the health implications of which are still not fully understood, have been found in 83% of tap water around the world – with the highest concentrations in North America.

Your municipality is obliged to give you an updated report on the water quality testing in your area. Contact your closest water utility company.

If you live with small children, more at risk of lead, or simply want to be on the safe side, or improve the taste of your water – an affordable carbon block filter like TAPP might be a good purchase. TAPP filters out lead, microplastics, pesticides and over 80 known contaminants. Especially if you are buying bottled water, TAPP will save you hundreds of dollars, while avoiding to contribute to the growing worldwide plastic crisis.

Bottled water in Canada

Tap water is generally 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.

In 2017, 19% of Canadians drank bottled water as the main type of drinking water at home. Quebecers alone use 700 million plastic bottles a year, while Toronto consumes 100 million bottles a year.

Not only does bottled water have a negative environmental impact, it is interesting to note that it costs more than gasoline per gallon. Bottled water can cost anywhere from a few nickels for a 500 ml bottle of house brand in bulk, to a couple loonies for a high-end brand. Tap water, on the other hand, costs tenths of a cent per litre.

Moreover, in 25% of cases, bottled water is just filtered municipal water sold at a premium according to the Canadian Bottled Water Association.

  • Pepsi’s Aquafina brand uses municipal tap water from Mississauga, Ontario
  • Coca-Cola’s Dasani uses municipal tap water from Calgary, Alberta
  • Nestlé’s Purelife uses public resources from Hillsburgh, Ontario

In Canada, tap water is regulated by the Federal Agency, who delegate control to municipalities, and forces them to publish their results. 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, research by OrbMedia found plastic in bottled water, all over the world. Another recent study by McGill University tested a sampling of Aquafina, Dasani, Eska, Naya and Nestle Pure Life brands. They found plastic in bottled water for each brand, including Eska water which comes in a glass bottle.

Recommendation

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, with worldwide coverage.

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

Summary

    • Canadian metropolises enjoy continuous access to clean and high-quality water
    • 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
    • Microplastics have been fount in most tap water, and all the top-selling water bottles in Canada
    • Lead, leaching from old infrastructure, often present in post-war houses 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 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 Canada? We want your feedback and opinion. Agree or disagree? Tell us!

(cet article sera bientôt disponible en français. En attendant, vous pouvez consulter Peut-on boire l’eau du robinet à Montréal?)

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