Alberta's water contains dangerous chemicals, warns expert

A prominent ecotoxicologist says dangerous chemicals are finding their way into Alberta's water supply.

A prominent ecotoxicologist says dangerous chemicals are finding their way into Alberta's water supply.

Pesticides, pharmaceuticals, antibiotics and hormones have been detected in the province's rivers and streams.

Those contaminants could cause health problems, such as increased rates of breast and prostate cancers and resistance to antibiotics, said Alice Hontela, an instructor at the University of Lethbridge and a CanadaResearch Chair in ecotoxicology.

A flush of the toilet can send excreted hormones, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals into Alberta's waterways. The province's agriculture industry is one of the biggest contributors, because of pesticide use and animal excrement, she said.

"I think that we should be worried, definitely, in southern Alberta," she said.

However, she adds that there is no firm evidence that there is a health link.

"I think that if we wait for all of the evidence to come in we will already be in a situation where it is too late."

'Our water quality is extremely high'

The province's drinking water is perfectly safe, said Chris Godwaldt, a spokesman with the not-for-profit Alberta Water Smart.

"Our water quality is extremely high," he said. "You burn your toast in the morning and you end up with more carcinogens."

However, most wastewater treatment plants in the province are not set up to deal with problems such as pharmaceuticals and antibiotics in the water, he said.

Flushing the problem downstream

Much of Calgary's drinking water comes from the Bow River and what we flush down the toilet is returned to the river after it's treated, sending contaminants downstream.

"I would say for Calgary that is an emerging issue," said Paul Fesko, a spokesman for the City of Calgary's water department.

"Wastewater treatment technology at present doesn't deal with it as best as it can, so there is lots of national studies going on."

Last year, an Alberta Environment study found drugs, ranging from ibuprofen to birth control pills and steroids, in samples from wastewater treatment plants in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.

At the time, a researcher said the levels found weren't dangerous.