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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:

Arsenic in Drinking Water - It's Your Health from Government of Canada. "Arsenic is a natural element found widely in the earth's crust. It may be found in some drinking water supplies, including wells. Exposure to high levels of arsenic can cause health effects. There are trace amounts of arsenic in all living matter. For most Canadians, the primary source of exposure to arsenic is food, followed by drinking water, soil and air. Drinking water would only be the major source of exposure for people living near a source of arsenic.

Arsenic may enter lakes, rivers or underground water naturally, when mineral deposits or rocks containing arsenic dissolve. Arsenic may also get into water through the discharge of industrial wastes and by the deposit of arsenic particles in dust, or dissolved in rain or snow. These arsenic particles can enter the environment through: the burning of fossil fuels (especially coal); metal production (such as gold and base metal mining); agricultural use (in pesticides and feed additives); or waste burning.
Data collected indicate that the levels of arsenic in Canadian drinking water are generally less than 0.005 milligrams per litre (0.005 parts per million - ppm).

Because arsenic can cause cancer, every effort should be made to keep arsenic levels in drinking water as low as possible. If you live in an area that has natural sources of arsenic or is known to have high levels of arsenic in its groundwater, you should have your well water tested."

See also: Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines.

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). Water Sci Technol. 2003;47(3):7-14. "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."Author information: University of Alberta, Dept of Public Health Sciences, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2G3, Canada. steve.hrudey@ualberta.ca

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

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.

What's Lurking in Your Water? What You Don't Know, Could Kill You. Fluoridation - Friend or Foe? By: D. Pickering, April 13, 2017.

Where to Find an Emergency Water Supply from Family Survival Planning.

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

Unicef's Water Game Plan from UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund). UNICEF is committed to support water services for the most disadvantaged ... This document presents UNICEF's 'game plan' to contribute to achieve universal safe and sustainable water services for all by 2030, and accelerate access to safely managed drinking water.

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.

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). This article is no longer accessible. But check out: This Day in Water History. A little bit of water history - one day at a time. "September 2, 2001: An article published in the New York Times on this date reported on the H2NO campaign by Coca-Cola. H2NO refers to an effort by Coca-Cola to dissuade consumers from ordering tap water drinks at restaurants, and to instead order more profitable soft drinks, non-carbonated beverages, or bottled water. The campaign's title, H2NO, reflects the program's purpose, which is to have customers say No to H2O, the chemical formula for water."

Don't Say No to H2O from Board of Water Supply.

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