Drinking water and health: Overview

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Responsibility for drinking water safety in Canada

In Canada, provincial, territorial, municipal and federal governments share the responsibility for making sure drinking water supplies are safe. Provinces and territories are primarily responsible for making sure water is safe to drink. Municipalities are usually responsible for treatment and distribution, except to private home owners who draw drinking water from a source on their property.

Health Canada's Water and Air Quality Bureau develops the Guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality in partnership with the provinces, territories and other federal departments. Every jurisdiction in Canada uses these guidelines to establish drinking water quality requirements based on their need and context. These requirements can include:

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Drinking water guidelines

Drinking water guidelines set limit on how much of a contaminant should be in drinking water. They're based on the best available:

Drinking water authorities need to know whether their drinking water management program is working effectively. They test and analyse drinking water at various points from its source to your tap. They compare the results to the guidelines to determine whether the water is safe to drink.

Some people may be more exposed or more sensitive to some contaminants meaning they could experience greater health effects. When we develop drinking water guidelines, we consider the impact on these people, including:

We also assess climate change impacts for each contaminant.

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The multi-barrier approach to drinking water safety

The best way to keep drinking water supplies clean, safe and reliable is to take a preventive risk management approach. The multi-barrier approach looks at all 3 parts of the drinking water supply:

The approach identifies all known and potential hazards, including:

This approach also makes sure barriers are in place to reduce or eliminate the risk of contamination. This includes:

As drinking water travels from its source to your tap, it can become contaminated in many ways. This means understanding each water supply from its beginning in nature to where it reaches you, the consumer. This understanding comes from collecting and studying data about:

The multi-barrier approach recognizes that each individual barrier may not be able to completely remove or prevent contamination. However, when used together, the barriers work to ensure that the water is safe to drink over the long term.

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Well water safety

About 3 million people in Canada rely on a private groundwater well for their drinking water.

As water from rain or melting snow soaks deeper into the ground, the particles in the ground act like a filter, helping to clean the water as it travels deeper. However, that doesn't mean that groundwater is free of contaminants. It may not always be of good quality due to natural or human contamination.

If you're the owner of a private well, it's your responsibility to protect the quality of your well water.

Be Well Aware: Information for private well owners

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Contact us

Contact us for more information about drinking water treatment devices.

Email: water-eau@hc-sc.gc.ca

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