New Ecojustice Report Looks at the Canadian Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality

Ecojustice has released a report "Waterproof Standards" reviewing the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines – and issuing a report card on how they are performing in comparison with other countries.

According to the Ecojustice report, Canada has no standard for more than 100 substances regulated by at least one other comparison country. The report also claims that Canada’s drinking water standards continue to lag behind international benchmarks and are at risk of falling even farther behind, according to the findings of a new investigative report, Waterproof: Standards, released by Ecojustice.

"There is no reason Canadians shouldn’t have the safest drinking water the world," said Ecojustice staff lawyer and report co-author Randy Christensen. "But regulatory efforts required to create, implement and maintain strong, world-class standards are sorely lacking."

The report examined the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality — which determine the maximum allowable level of contaminants in water considered safe for human use and consumption — and compared them with corresponding frameworks in the United States, European Union, and Australia, as well as standards recommended by the World Health Organization.

The findings are troubling. While Canada has, or is tied for, the strongest standard in 24 instances, it has, or is tied for, the weakest standard for 27 substances. And in 105 other cases, Canada has no standard where at least one other comparison country does.

For instance, the standard for the commonly used pesticide 2,4-D is 1.5-3 times stronger in other countries than it is in Canada. Long-term exposure to this substance, a common herbicide that can be detected in surface water across Canada, has been linked to liver, kidney and nervous system damage.

In another troubling case, Canada has no standard for styrene, a possible human carcinogen, even though it is regulated by the United States, Australia and the World Health Organization.

Also noteworthy is the fact that Canada has no microbiological water treatment standard— advanced filtration or equivalent technology — that provides protection, in addition to the microbiological water quality standards, from waterborne pathogens, such as E.coli.

Ecojustice has identified five recommendations to address the systemic problems contributing to Canada’s weak standards and failure to update them in a timely way: 

These recommendations — explained in further detail in Waterproof: Standards — outline a pragmatic approach to strengthening Canada’s standards and bringing them up to par in the short-term.

CWWA’s drinking water quality committee is reviewing the report and will be discussing its conclusions during our next teleconference.

Canadian Water and Wastewater Association