Is Your Tap Water Safe to Drink? What to Know in the GTA – AtlasCare

Is Your Tap Water Safe to Drink? What to Know in the GTA


Clean water is one of the easiest things to take for granted. Without it, there’d be no flushing the toilet, no showering or bathing, no clean dishes or clothes…not to mention no water to drink!

You’re right to ask questions about the quality of your drinking water. We’re fortunate to have access to clean, safe water sources here in the Greater Toronto Area, but there was a Do Not Drink Advisory in Halton Region as recently as 2017. What’s more, a number of older homes in the GTA still use lead pipes, and new changes to the law allow municipalities to bypass certain drinking water regulations.

Here’s what you need to know about your drinking water here in the GTA:

  1. Where your drinking water comes from;
  2. How drinking water can become contaminated; and
  3. How to choose a water filtration system.

What Is the Source of Toronto’s Drinking Water?

Here in the Greater Toronto Area (including most of the Peel and Halton Regions) our tap water comes from Lake Ontario. It is collected through underwater intake pipes located at least 1km away from the shore.

Once it’s removed from the lake, the water goes through a multistage treatment process designed to remove debris, impurities, algae, bacteria and viruses. This process, which takes place at one of many water treatment facilities throughout the GTA, includes filtering the water to remove large debris and and disinfecting it with either chlorine or ozone.

Our water is also treated with the following additives:

  • Chlorine to destroy bacteria, algae and viruses.
  • Fluoride to help prevent tooth decay.
  • Ammonia to ensure that chlorine levels remain consistent as water travels through the distribution system.
  • Phosphoric acid to help create a barrier between residential lead pipes and drinking water.

In Canada, the responsibility to make sure our drinking water is safe is shared between the municipal, provincial and federal governments. However, most of the day-to-day work for this important task is handled at a local level.

Whenever there are concerns about water safety, the municipal government is typically the first to let you know. When Milton had a Do Not Drink Advisory in 2017, for example, it was Halton Region’s Associate Medical Officer of Health who issued the warning and spread the word.

How Can Drinking Water Become Contaminated?

Drinking water can become contaminated in various ways at different parts of the water system:

  1. Source water can become contaminated through human activities, like agricultural or industrial runoff. For example, agricultural pollution was what introduced E.Coli into the water supply in Walkerton in 2002.
  2. Water treatment system can be the origin of contamination or, if water is not processed properly, allow contamination that occurred in the source water. An inquiry into the Walkerton crisis found the town’s water supply managers ultimately responsible for failing to prevent the spread of E.Coli.
  3. Water distribution system, which carries water to homes and other buildings, can also become contaminated. Municipal water main breaks, for example, can introduce contaminants into the supply.
  4. Your home’s plumbing system is the final leg of the drinking water distribution system and it, too, can be a point of contamination. A leaking water line can allow potentially harmful contaminants into your drinking water, and corroded lead pipes can cause lead poisoning.

In Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area, our tap water is continuously tested, monitored and analyzed to flag possible contamination and deal with it quickly. This approach goes a long way to ensure that your family’s water is safe to drink.

However, the city can only go so far when it comes to clean drinking water. Once water enters your plumbing system, it can still become contaminated on the way to your tap – especially if there’s a problem with your water line.

There are also a number of common water problems that aren’t dangerous, but still raise concerns among residents, such as:

  1. Cloudy water
    Can occur after construction has occurred in and around a water main. Construction work can cause rust and sediment to break away from inside the pipe and find its way into your glass.
  2. Chlorine
    Chlorine is added to the drinking water to eliminate bacteria, algae and viruses, but many people are sensitive to the taste and smell.
  3. Fluoride
    Fluoride is a naturally-occurring mineral that is added to water to help prevent tooth decay in children. However, not everyone wants to drink fluoridated water.
  4. Earthy taste or smell
    Our drinking water comes from Lake Ontario. From late summer and early fall, algae growth in the lake can give drinking water an earthy or musty smell.

These are among the most common reasons why many people install water filtration systems in their homes.

How to Choose a Water Filtration System

There are several ways to filter water before it comes out of your tap.

No single water filtration method can filter out all possible contaminants, but there are systems that incorporate two or more methods at once to achieve better results. If you’re only worried about filtering one specific contaminant, you might find that one method is all you need.

The three most popular water filtration systems installed in the Greater Toronto Area are carbon filters, reverse osmosis systems and distillation systems. There are a few other systems available, but these are generally used for specific situations rather than as a whole-house purification solution.

  1. Carbon Water Filtration

Removes: VOCs, radon, pesticides, lead, mercury, chlorine

Carbon water filters can be installed on a tap, under a sink, or on the main water line for whole-house water filtration. They’re actually part of a three-stage filtration process that removes sediment and chlorine in addition to potentially hazardous substances like VOCs, pesticides, lead and mercury.

  1. Reverse Osmosis

Removes: Microorganisms, fibres, metals, minerals, asbestos, nitrates

Reverse osmosis filters water through a fine membrane at high pressure. A reverse osmosis system can be installed on a tap or under the sink. Although it takes longer than carbon filtration, it removes almost every type of contaminant at once. However, it must be noted that reverse osmosis also removes minerals – including ones that are beneficial.

  1. Distillation

Removes: Microorganisms, fibres, metals, minerals, asbestos, nitrates

Distillation is a whole-home water filtration system that vaporizes water to separate it from any contaminants. The purified water passes through a condensation filter and leaves the impurities behind. As with reverse osmosis, distillation will remove beneficial particles as well as harmful ones, so people often choose to have water remineralized after it’s distilled.

To learn more about water filtration system or inquire about installing one in your GTA home, call us at (905) 829-1296 or reach out to us online.