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Safety of Our Water

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

Article printed on page 21 in the February 5, 2014 issue of
The Mississauga News Health & Beauty, Medicine Matters.
Portrait of Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, supplied 2005
Dr. Peter W. Kujtan

When I was in grade 7, a company dumping toxic waste down a storm sewer contaminated a local pond in the High Park area. It resulted in a six-inch layer of dead fish along the top surface of the brown muddy water. My science class sold glass bottles of distilled water to raise funds to promote awareness of the preciousness of our water supply. Public attitude was that fresh water was an abundant inexhaustible commodity. People laughed and jeered at paying 25 cents for water. The campaign didn’t go well. Yet a quarter of century later, bottled water is selling at a feverish pace, and we now consider it a valuable resource. It is refreshing to see that drinking pure water is regaining popularity, but yet I wonder what forces drive this resurrection. I admit that it may be a matter of convenience and taste over price. That handy little bottle goes everywhere, and falsely seems cleaner than drinking from a fountain.

Tap water from large municipal supplies is just as safe or safer than bottled water. It must meet strict testing and retesting standards and has the benefit of fluoridation. No harmful bacteria can be present. Bottled water must meet some of the same criteria. It is allowed to contain non-pathogenic bacteria in small amounts. Bottled water is not sterile and should not be used as such. Once opened, it should be refrigerated between uses. All bottled water is not the same and it is generally no safer than tap water. Ontario has fairly good regulations, but travel south and you can never be sure what you are getting or where it comes from. So beware.

Water labeled as “spring” or “mineral” simply means that it did not come from a municipal source but originated from some other underground source. It is more likely to be a drilled-well in a field than a sprouting natural spring. Without this designation, the water probably originated from a tap somewhere and underwent treatment. Distilled water has been boiled and re-condensed into liquid again. It removes impurities and produces a bland taste. Other common practices include ozonation and charcoal filtration. Canadian labels have to state how the water was treated, and state the mineral content. The profit margins are quite lucrative, and the demand is so great that ground water tables are being depleted. More worrisome, is the Great Pacific Garbage patch extending hundreds of ocean miles and containing high concentrations of degraded plastics. Won’t our descendents be proud of our habits?

The Walkerton Incident instilled a fear of tap water. My cottage water comes from a drilled well 200 feet deep into the Canadian Shield. The slight mineral content and year round cold temperature imparts a wonderful taste. We test it regularly to ensure that it is free of bacteria, yet visitors continue to amuse us by bringing bottled water from unknown sources rather than drink water out of “the tap”. No amount of reassurance, beer or psychotherapy can convince them to drink tap water, yet mix it with juice or scotch and it seems fine. Reusing plastic bottles may leech toxins, so glass is king. For those truly interested in natural water supplies, find a reliable source, and investigate where the water comes from and how it is treated. Tap water is far cheaper than bottled. Taste can be altered with an economical carbon filter system. So get up, walk to the tap and have a cold one on me!


Related resources:

Drinking Water from Health Canada. "In Canada, the responsibility for making sure drinking water supplies are safe is shared between the provincial, territorial, federal and municipal governments. The day-to-day responsibility of providing safe drinking water to the public generally rests with the provinces and territories, while municipalities usually oversee the day to day operations of the treatment facilities.

Health Canada's Water Quality and Health Bureau plays a leadership role in science and research. Its mandate and expertise lies in protecting the health of all Canadians by developing the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality in partnership with the provinces and territories. These guidelines are used by every jurisdiction in Canada and are the basis for establishing drinking water quality requirements for all Canadians."

Walkerton Tragedy from Wikipedia.

Drinking water contamination in Walkerton, Ontario: positive resolutions from a tragic event by R. Holme of Earth Tech Canada, Markham ON Canada. "In May 2000, Escherichia coli 0157:H7 and Campylobacter jejuni contaminated the drinking water supply in Walkerton, Ontario. Seven people died and over 2,000 were ill as a result. The Ontario Provincial Government set up a judicial Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the outbreak and also moved quickly to introduce a new Drinking Water Regulation that incorporated some signi?cant requirements for drinking water providers."

Contamination: The Poisonous Legacy of Ontario's Environmental Cutbacks by Ulli Diemer. This is a story about fanaticism and death.

Death on Tap: The Poisoning of Walkerton from CBC Digital Archives. "In May 2000, bacteria seeped into Walkerton's town well. The deadly E. coli then slipped quietly through a maze of pipes and into the homes of Walkerton, Ont. Unsuspecting residents thirstily drank the polluted water and bathed in their bacteria-ridden tubs. But soon after, they began experiencing common symptoms of infection; bloody diarrhea and throbbing cramps. Seven people would eventually die and another 1286 would fall ill. The investigation which followed exposed an alarmingly unstable waterworks system made fragile by government cuts."

A fatal waterborne disease epidemic in Walkerton, Ontario: comparison with other waterborne outbreaks in the developed world by S.E. Hrudey (U of Alberta), P. Payment (U du Québec), P.M. Huck (U of Waterloo), R.W. Gillham (U of Waterloo) and E.J. Hrudey (U of Alberta). "An estimated 2,300 people became seriously ill and seven died from exposure to microbially contaminated drinking water in the town of Walkerton, Ontario, Canada in May 2000. The severity of this drinking water disaster resulted in the Government of Ontario calling a public inquiry by Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor to address the cause of the outbreak, the role (if any) of government policies in contributing to this outbreak and, ultimately, the implications of this experience on the safety of drinking water across the Province of Ontario."

The Truth About Bottled Water by Chris Topher. YouTube video, 12:46 min.

Love My Tap Water Thirsty? Turn on the tap from Region of Peel, Public Works. "Clean, refreshing water is available at any tap in Peel. Tap waters is convenient, good for your health, a wise choice to reduce waste and protect the environment."
Tap Water Myths and Facts.
Topics, Programs & Services A-Z at Region of Peel Public Works.

Michael Pritchard makes filthy water drinkable. YouTube video, 10:05 min. Filmed Jul 2009. Too much of the world lacks access to clean drinking water. Engineer Michael Pritchard . . . inventing the portable Lifesaver filter, which can make the most revolting water drinkable in seconds. An amazing demo.

The Wetter Water Report. What You Don’t Know About Water May Kill You. The Secrets to Longevity and Health by Dr. Patrick Flanagan.

Emergency Drinking Water Supplies by Dorothy L. Miner, Extension Water Quality Associate Specialist.

Ground Water and Drinking Water from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

FAQs About Ground Water & Drinking Water from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Safe Water Emergency Storage from Homeland Security.

Water On Tap: What You Need to Know. Includes Highlights of the Safe Drinking Water Act, from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Second Opinions: The Bottled Boom - Why Buy Bottled Water?

Are You More Vulnerable to Drinking Water Contaminants? What water is safe to drink for someone who is more vulnerable to Crypto and other waterborne microbial diseases? Is lead in drinking water dangerous for children? How do I know if lead is in my tap water? The Campaign for Safe and Affordable Drinking Water (CSADW) is an alliance of over 300 organizations working to protect drinking water in the United States.

Tap Water Quality and Safety.

Acid Rain and Tap Water.

What is in tap water?

Drinking Water Information: Bottled Water or Tap Water?

Soft drink is purified tap water.

Drinking tap water may not be a real good idea!

'Just Say No to H2O' (Unless It's Coke's Own Brew).

Coca-Cola Admits That Dasani Is Nothing But Tap Water.

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