Local lessons learned in chemical contamination of water supply.

Canada contains approximately seven per cent of the world’s fresh and renewable water according to Environment Canada.

Since a high percentage of Canada’s water drains to the north while most of Canada’s population is in the south,  excessive water consumption and water availability are legitimate concerns.

When a fire destroyed the St-Albert Cheese Factory in St. Albert, Ontario the issue of water contamination and consumption was again a hot topic as chemicals from the fire and the water used to extinguish it may have leaked into their groundwater system. While it is a common belief that water can be purified when boiled, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit said that not all toxins and chemicals can be removed this way. Boiling water will eradicate most harmful bacteria but chemicals are more difficult to cleanse. Because, in many instances, chemicals  can’t be tasted, smelled or seen, knowing water is safe to drink requires more elaborate processes.

In laboratories, a multitude of tests are used to detect chemical, bacteria and microorganisms in water. Gene probes are often used to seek out contaminants in water. This process uses DNA fragments that attach to similar DNA fragments in the water. When gene probe tests are positive,  the contaminated water must have the harmful pathogens eliminated.

One of the more common tests is the biochemical oxygen demand. Normally this is used to measure the amount of pollutants in a body of water. It measures the amount of oxygen needed for microorganism to grow in water.

The water ban  in the town of St. Albert  has since been lifted however the incident did raise awareness of the fragility of our water resources and the need to manage them wisely.

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