The number of communities with problems with the disinfection of by-products may soon increase across the country.
This is not because the supply of drinking water or infrastructure will somehow be destroyed.
Rather, Health Canada has confirmed that it is in the process of revising its standard for acceptable levels of chemicals created in drinking water distribution systems when chlorine is used as a disinfectant.
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The chemical reaction between chlorine and the natural organic material present in water sources can create by-products like THM and HAAs. The long-term exposure to these by-products, whether by drinking, inhaled or absorbed by the skin, is associated with cancer, reproductive problems and other health problems.
Last week, "West Star" presented a number of stories about the excessive levels of THM and HAA found in several communities in Newfoundland and Labrador. It is estimated that about one-third of the country's public drinking systems have THM levels that exceed the current Health Canada standard or are assumed to have too high levels of HAA.
The last round of monitoring of public water supply by the provincial government shows that 164 of nearly 500 tested water supply sources have excessive levels of TMM and 158 of them have excessive levels of AAA.
It should be noted that some communities have more than one source of water that has been tested.
The Canada Health Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality for THM and HAA were published in 2006 and 2008 respectively. They set acceptable THM levels at 100 micrograms per liter of water and acceptable HAA levels at 80 micrograms per liter of water.
In one of the recent papers, machine engineering professor Tahir Hussein, who is working on developing technologies to remove these by-products from water systems, said Health Canada is pursuing even lower levels of these standards.
Hussein said Canada is likely to cut the levels close to those in the United States. American standards set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) take 80 micrograms per liter of water acceptable for THM and have determined acceptable levels of HAAs at 60 micrograms per liter of water.
The Western Star requested an interview with representatives of the federal agency. No one was available, but in an e-mail response, Health Canada confirmed that it regularly monitors new science and action taken internationally to develop new drinking water guidelines or to update existing guidelines if necessary.
"Healthcare is currently reviewing new THM and HAAs research, including science that informs the US EPA standard," reads an e-mail response from Health Canada. "Once the review has been completed, the Federal Provincial-Territorial Committee on Drinking Water will use this information to determine whether guidance updates are needed or not."
If the Canadian standard is reduced to meet the American standard, it would attract more communities to the list of those who do not meet Health Canada's acceptable disinfecting side-effects.
According to the last round of public drinking drinks in Newfoundland and Labrador, another 27 water sources could not meet the American standard and 33 other water sources would be considered overly counted according to the criteria set south of the border.