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Municipalities are responsible for the drinking water in their area. They do this by collecting water samples and having them analyzed. Results are then compared to the Canadian drinking water quality guidelines from Health Canada to decide whether or not the water is safe to drink, or to swim in. ((CBC))

Just days before Canada and other nations observe World Water Day on March 22, 2009, Health Canada said it's commissioning a study to test drinking water from 60 different water treatment plants across the country.

The two-year study will look for the presence of disinfection byproducts, which are produced in the water treatment process, and traces of pharmaceuticals or components of plastics, which can migrate into drinking water from waste water. The disinfection byproducts are thought to raise the risk of cancer and other health problems. The results from the study are expected in 2011.

Karen Kun, co-founder of the water learning organization Waterlution, has told CBC News she's concerned about drug byproducts in municipal water supplies.

"What's happening is you've got these excellent municipal systems that know how to get out the traditional things people flush. But the concern is everything that goes into our bodies comes out, including pharmaceuticals," she said, with the biggest being estrogen from birth control pills.

"Research shows fish populations feminized. And then there are antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. Those three are the ones that come up in high quantities."

What is good quality drinking water?

According to Environment Canada, good drinking water is free from disease-causing organisms, harmful chemical substances and radioactive matter. It tastes good and looks good — that means no bad odours or colour to the water.

Guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality specify limits for substances and describe conditions that affect drinking water quality.

How are the guidelines enforced?

Municipalities are responsible for the drinking water in their area. They are supposed to provide citizens with safe drinking water. It is also their responsibility to inform the public about pollution risks related to recreational use of water.

They do this by collecting water samples and having them analyzed. Results are then compared to the Canadian drinking water quality guidelines to decide whether or not the water is safe to drink, or to swim in.

What about bottled water? Is that safe?

Bottled water is regulated as a food product under the Food and Drugs Act.

Federal food inspectors regularly check the operations of bottled water companies to ensure compliance with the act. Some provincial and municipal agencies also keep tabs on bottled waters.

Manufacturers that are members of bottled water associations must follow additional specific requirements to ensure the quality of their products.

For example: members of the Canadian Bottled Water Association, CBWA, who produce about 85 per cent of the bottled water in Canada, are subject not only to federal and provincial regulations, but also to third-party inspections, water testing and analysis, and adherence to the CBWA Model Code.

For additional information on the standards required of CBWA members, contact:

Canadian Bottled Water Association 70 East Beaver Creek Road, Suite 203-1 Richmond Hill, Ont., L4B 3B2. Tel. (905) 886-6928. Fax (905) 886-9531. Email: ECGRISWOOD@aol.com

What about well-water?

The safety of well-water is the responsibility of the owner of the property where the well is located.

Ensure your well is properly constructed and located to prevent surface water from entering your water supply directly. Surface water is from lakes, rivers, streams, ponds and reservoirs.

Take samples:

  • From your house and cottage 3-4 times a season.
  • If your well has been flooded.
  • When your well is newly constructed, or has been renovated recently.

Sources: Environment Canada