Torontonians consider themselves lucky to live by the massive water supply that is Lake Ontario. However, water quality concerns in Toronto have historically had their ups and downs and date back to the early 1800s. According to the City of Toronto website, there was more than one typhoid epidemic over the years as the city’s filtration plants battled growing populations and technology evolutions.
Toronto became one of the first cities in all of North America to implement chlorine into its public water system and considers itself to be one of the leaders in water chlorination in Canada. Currently, Toronto’s water treatment is operated by four water filtration plants, including three on the lakeshore and one on Centre Island. Let’s take a closer look at water treatment in Toronto and the facts about the water that is being sent to your home.
Of the four water treatment plants in Toronto, perhaps none are more famous than the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant. The cathedral style architecture of this structure makes it one of Toronto’s most admired buildings as is further evidenced by its appearance in many popular movies such as Half Baked, Strange Brew, the horror film In the Mouth of Madness and many other TV shows and movies.
The City of Toronto is responsible for treating over one billion liters of potable water each day. With a goal of providing residents and businesses safe, clean drinking water, Toronto Water has always strived to exceed Federal and Provincial water quality standards.
The water that is taken from Lake Ontario is treated for impurities that stem from physical materials that make the water appear dirty, chemical substances that come from natural and man-made processes, and biological contaminants such as viruses, bacteria and other microscopic living organisms. The process by which the City of Toronto turns lake water into drinking water (PDF) is provided on their website and includes nine separate stages which include collection from deep within the lake, to chlorination, to filtration, storage and pumping.
Unfortunately, the pipes in Toronto that were used before the mid-1950s were commonly made of lead, which the city readily admits pose threats to health. Because lead is a soft metal that can leech into water, the city has tried to raise public awareness about how families in older homes can minimize their exposure to lead in their drinking water. While the city has posted verbiage on how to do this, most of the exposure-avoidance initiatives are presented by proactive measures such as the installation of a water filtration system.
In addition to safeguarding your family with a water filtration system, Toronto has initiated the Priority Lead Water Service Replacement Program to help reduce exposure from lead. The program is voluntary and proposes that the homeowner replaces the lead pipes that deliver water to their home. The homeowners who replace their pipes first will be put on a priority system where the city will do their part to replace the lead pipes on their side of the property line at the same time or shortly after the homeowner. The homeowner is responsible for the costs of their pipe replacement, and this is something that obviously might slow the process for many cash-strapped homeowners and is also why installation of a water filter is a great immediate option.
The reassuring thing for homeowners in light of the lead scares is that most of Toronto’s tap water is considered to be clean and safe. The city samples drinking water every four hours at each of its operating plants to confirm that the water is bacteria-free. Over 50,000 bacteriological tests are performed at the filtration plants every year as are 20,000 bacteriological tests on water collected from the distribution system. Although the standards for chemical contaminants regulate the testing of at least 78 chemicals, the City of Toronto tests over 300.
While these tests are promising, it has been showcased that even the most state-of-the-art water treatment plants can’t clean out everything. As seen in a report featured on InsideScience.com, some “superbugs” can develop resistance to nearly any type of antibiotic. This is just another reason to be proactive about installing Whole House and Under Sink water filters throughout the home to prevent as many harmful contaminants from passing through your pipes as possible.