Nav: Home

Private drinking water supplies pose challenges to public health

March 15, 2010

An estimated three to four million people - about one in every eight Canadians -drink water from private supplies.

Infrequent testing and maintenance puts consumers of these water supplies at greater risk of contamination than public systems, states an article in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) (pre-embargo link only) http://www.cmaj.ca/embargo/cmaj090956.pdf. It goes on to state people need to take personal responsibility for their water quality and governments need to provide better oversight and resources in order to improve the case.

Water-borne disease outbreaks are common in the developing world but can also occur in affluent countries. In the United States, 19.5 million water-borne illnesses occur every year (all sources) and three quarters (76%) of drinking water outbreaks are associated with groundwater sources. A study from the United Kingdom found outbreaks of water-borne infectious diseases among people with private water supplies were 35 times greater than among consumers of publicly-supplied water.

While most Canadians are supplied by regulated public municipal water systems, people who live in rural areas often rely on private supplies, most of which are groundwater sources such as wells. These may not be well-maintained or regularly tested for water quality. An Ontario study found that only 8% of private water systems met the current provincial recommendation for frequency of testing.

"The perception that private systems, the majority of which come from groundwater in rural and small towns, yield higher water quality compared to municipal sources is unclear and unfounded," writes Dr. Jeffrey Charrois a research scientist with Alberta Innovates -- Technology Futures and an adjunct assistant professor with University of Alberta. "The provision of safe, secure drinking water is necessary for protecting public health and requires an understanding of the responsibility, proper technical training plus the dedication to carry out those tests."

Contamination of wells can occur from bacteria, enteric viruses and protozoa -- pathogenic organisms capable of causing water-borne-illnesses -- as well as chemicals such as pesticides, nitrate, and naturally occurring arsenic. A review of 288 water-related infectious disease outbreaks in Canada over a 27 year period found that two-thirds were associated with private or semi-private supplies. In another survey of 1292 drinking water wells on farmsteads in Ontario, 40% of the wells were found to contain one or more contaminants at levels above maximum acceptable concentrations.

Water quality oversight of public systems typically rests with the ministry of health or environment, depending on the province or territory. "Issues related to the quality of water from private wells are clearly not on the radar of most Canadians," writes the author.

"Owners of private systems must take personal responsibility for their water quality, but they need more information and better resources," concludes Dr. Charrois. "Local, provincial and federal governments must develop and deliver the education, awareness and innovative programs that encourage people to take the steps to ensure that their private water systems are safe."
-end-


Canadian Medical Association Journal

Related Consumers Articles:

What's in a name? For young Chinese consumers, it's about culture mixing
Younger, more cosmopolitan Chinese consumers tend to favor brand translations that keep both the sound and the meaning of the original name, says U. of I. business professor and branding expert Carlos J.
Why do consumers participate in 'green' programs?
From recycling to reusing hotel towels, consumers who participate in a company's 'green' program are more satisfied with its service, finds a new study co-led by a Michigan State University researcher.
Consumers care about carbon footprint
How much do consumers care about the carbon footprint of the products they buy?
Consumers have huge environmental impact
You won't make big cuts in your environmental impact by taking shorter showers or turning out the lights.
Consumers' preferences for foliage plant attributes
Experiments investigated the effect of plant attributes on consumers' likelihood of purchasing indoor foliage plants.
More Consumers News and Consumers Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans
More than test scores or good grades — what do kids need to prepare them for the future? This hour, guest host Manoush Zomorodi and TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, in and out of the classroom. Guests include educators Olympia Della Flora and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#535 Superior
Apologies for the delay getting this week's episode out! A technical glitch slowed us down, but all is once again well. This week, we look at the often troubling intertwining of science and race: its long history, its ability to persist even during periods of disrepute, and the current forms it takes as it resurfaces, leveraging the internet and nationalism to buoy itself. We speak with Angela Saini, independent journalist and author of the new book "Superior: The Return of Race Science", about where race science went and how it's coming back.