The 4 common sources of unwanted chemical contamination
In Canada, there are four common sources of contamination that can pollute the public drinking water supply. These range from agricultural and industrial runoff, to open-pit coal mines, to the old lead pipes that carry water from the mains supply into private buildings — such as people’s homes or workplaces.
1. Agricultural runoff
Rain or snowmelt is not always absorbed through the soil. Instead, it runs into streams, rivers, and lakes, or it passes through cracks in the earth into the ground. This water is known as runoff, and it can pick up contaminants. If the runoff passes over a farm, these contaminants can include pesticides, fertilizers, and animal waste, and it becomes agricultural runoff. Agricultural runoff happens every time excessive rainwater or snowmelt causes water to flow across the topsoil and into waterways. Agricultural runoff commonly enters surface water sources. Polluted rainwater is one of the leading sources of contamination in rivers and lakes as fertilizers cause toxic algae to grow uncontrollably — with algae blooms frequently affecting the Lake Winnipeg watershed, which spans four Canadian provinces and serves 7 million people.
2. Urban and industrial runoff
Urban and industrial runoff is rainwater that flows across roads, construction sites, and factories, carrying pollutants from built-up areas into nearby waterways. Most developed areas have stormwater drains to channel rainwater away from buildings via a series of pipes and drainage streams. These systems help to reduce localized flooding and avoid erosion. However, they can carry contaminants from roads, chemicals from vehicles, pesticides and fertilizers from gardens, and bacteria from wastewater directly into local waterways. As a result, urban and industrial runoff is a major source of pollution in streams, lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Anyone who drinks well water or lives or works near potential urban or industrial runoff could be at risk.
3. Lead pipes
In 2019, new data revealed that hundreds-of-thousands of Canadians could be drinking tap water tainted with excessive levels of lead. Ageing infrastructure and outdated public plumbing networks are to blame, as it’s the piping and fixtures in homes and offices — rather than the municipal system — that’s leaching lead into the water.
The study tested tap water in 11 cities — including Toronto, Montreal, Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Prince Rupert, B.C. — and concluded that one-third of samples exceeded the safe level guideline of five parts per billion. A federal parliamentary committee has said the results suggest upwards of 500,000 homes and offices across Canada are at risk and that the lead level in some areas reflects that seen during the Flint crisis in Michigan in 2015.
The concern with lead-lined plumbing is that water can corrode the pipes, causing lead to leach into the supply. Our bodies absorb the lead from the drinking water, causing anemia, memory loss, kidney and heart disease, reduced fertility, even brain damage.
4. Open-pit coal mining
Some Canadians believe that water is ‘mining’s most common casualty.’ That could certainly be the case in Canada. Vast open-pit coal mines in British Columbia are leaching unsafe levels of selenium into the Elk River watershed, contaminating the drinking water source of at least ten separate water companies.
Water pollution results from the discharge of wastewater from the mines, or the seepage of water during the mining work, which leaks chemical contaminants into local waterways. Mining also depletes local fresh water due to its heavy use in processing the ore to extract the minerals.
Tests indicate selenium levels are at least seven-times higher in the Elk’s waters beneath the mines than above them; today, the Elk Valley has one of the highest levels of selenium pollution in the entire world.
How can you reduce chemical contaminants in drinking water?
If you have reason to believe that you water is contaminated, contact your local water service provider to test your water.
Canadian tap water suppliers regularly test local water quality, then publish water quality reports every year. You can look up your city’s water quality report on the Canadian government’s website, or, if you get your water from a private well, request that a specialist test it for pollution, then select a water treatment solution based on the results.
Additionally, water dispensers with carbon water filters are one of the most affordable, effective ways to remove most chemical contaminants like lead and industrial by-products.
Carbon filters work by passing the water through a permeable membrane that absorbs the pollutants. Water dispensers include a range of water purification technologies, guaranteeing you a drinking water supply that’s 99.9999% chemical and bacteria-free — making it the ideal solution when you want to be sure that every sip is safe.