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Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines
Canadian drinking water supplies are generally of excellent quality. However, water in nature is never "pure." It picks up bits and pieces of everything it comes into contact with, including minerals, silt, vegetation, fertilizers, and agricultural run-off. While most of these substances are harmless, some may pose a health risk. To address this risk, Health Canada works with the provincial and territorial governments to develop guidelines that set out the maximum acceptable concentrations of these substances in drinking water. These drinking water guidelines are designed to protect the health of the most vulnerable members of society, such as children and the elderly. The guidelines set out the basic parameters that every water system should strive to achieve in order to provide the cleanest, safest and most reliable drinking water possible.
Understanding and meeting the guidelines is an important component of a Multi-Barrier Approach to Safe Drinking Water. This approach looks at each drinking water system from the source all the way to the consumer's tap to make sure all known and potential hazards are identified and addressed so the water remains free of contaminants. The drinking water guidelines can be used as markers to make sure the barriers are working and the treated drinking water is safe. The Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality deal with microbiological, chemical and radiological contaminants. They also address concerns with the physical characteristics of water, such as taste and odour.
Microbiological quality guidelines
The most significant risks to people's health from drinking water come from microscopic organisms such as disease-causing bacteria, protozoa and viruses. The guidelines that relate to these microorganisms are stringent because the associated health effects can be quite severe. They can also affect health over the long term.
Chemical and radiological quality guidelines
Chemical and radiological substances may also be found in some drinking water supplies but these are generally only a concern if they are present above guideline levels and you are exposed to them over a period of years. New science is showing that exposure to some chemical contaminants above guideline levels may be a concern in the short term as well.
Aesthetic quality and operational guidelines
Aesthetic quality guidelines address parameters which may affect consumer acceptance of drinking water, such as taste, odour and colour. Operational guidelines are set for parameters that may affect processes at a treatment plant or in the drinking water distribution system.
What information you can find here
In this section, you will find fact sheets on a variety of topics related to the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. The It's Your Health series is aimed at a general audience while the Water Talk series is slightly more technical. If you work in the drinking water field, this is where you will find the Summary Table of current drinking water guideline values, Guideline Documents for published guidelines, Guideline documents undergoing Public Consultation, and information on the status of drinking water guidelines.
For more information on how the guidelines are developed, see the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Committee on Drinking Water.