water_tap_glass_cartoonDespite numerous reports on the quality of Vancouver’s tap water, George Chiang, 35, still prefers to boil or filter it before drinking.

“It’s a cultural thing,” says Chiang, who was born in Taiwan and has lived in Vancouver for over 14 years. Chiang explains that he acquired his habits from his parents, who still live in Taiwan.

The self-employed resident is well aware of the city’s claims about the high quality of its drinking water.

“Our tap water is as good as it gets,” says Glenn Bohn, a communication specialist with Metro Vancouver. “There is no need to boil, filter or treat it in any way.

Chiang, however, expresses concerns about impurities coming from his building’s pipes.

“My building is at least 20 years old. In Taiwan, I have heard many horror stories about what gets into the water from the pipes. So I think it’s better to be safe,” says Chiang.

While Bohn insists that such worries are unnecessary, and that the city tests the water over 136,000 times every year from source to tap, a message from the medical health /drinking water officer in a 2011 report seems to support Chiang’s concerns.

“As per standard recommended water practices, ‘water from taps that are not used for several hours is good for washing or watering plants not for drinking or cooking, as it may contain elevated levels of lead or copper,’” reads a statement from the City of Burnaby’s 2011 Annual Drinking Water Quality Report.

A fact sheet from Canadian Springs, one of the largest direct delivery drinking water companies in the country, further points to the presence of other potentially toxic materials in municipal water, including chlorine, rust and other man-made chemicals and pollutants that may be cause for some concern, especially among those with weaker immune systems.

According to Mengo McCall, director of business development for Canadian Springs, four out of five police stations in Vancouver failed to meet minimum water quality standards due to high lead content deposited from the buildings’ pipes.

“I am not an alarmist,” says McCall. “These are very small quantities and vary from building to building. It is just something to consider.”

Water engineer and social entrepreneur Bradley Pierik offers a different perspective.

“There is a ton of business effort to get people not to trust [municipal] water, but it’s nonsense,” says Pierik, who suggests putting tap water in the fridge to neutralize the chlorine.

After years of research in developing countries such as Haiti, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, Pierik designed and created a portable water purification system, which he intends to market in countries where water-borne illnesses are a major cause of death and disease. However, the system –called Tapp – will not likely be available in Canada any time soon.

Pierik explains that most Canadians living within the municipal water grid have no need for the device.

“I have studied water for years and years and worked for the biggest water corporations in the world. I drink tap water and feel good about it,” says Pierik, who currently lives in Vancouver.

McCall emphasizes that his company is not against tap water, but is in fact dependent on it. Canadian Springs is a subsidiary of Aquaterra Corporation, Inc., which also offers services in water filtration, coffee, tea and break-room supplies.

“We fully support tap water,” says McCall. “The problem is that it does not go everywhere.”

McCall refers to numerous warehouses, parking garages and boardrooms, which are not usually equipped with tap water facilities.

There are further inconsistencies within different water systems.

Pins from Metro Vancouver’s campaign to promote tap water | Photo by Ariane Colenbrander, Flickr
Pins from Metro Vancouver’s campaign to promote tap water | Photo by Ariane Colenbrander, Flickr

British Columbia’s Ministry of Health Services counts more than 3,300 water systems under the province’s jurisdiction, serving almost 90 per cent of the population. The remaining ten per cent of the population relies on a variety of public and private systems, including 468 small First Nations water systems under federal jurisdiction. While B.C.’s water systems have generally received favourable reviews, recent reports point to serious discrepancies in the monitoring and operation of systems from region to region, especially in First Nations communities.

According to a 2011 federal report, 154 out of 188 First Nations water systems in B.C. are categorized as having a high overall risk level of containing water-borne illnesses.

Additional concerns about the effects of nearby industrial development and other polluting activities leave Chiang preferring to err on the side of caution. Nonetheless, he expresses a general appreciation for Canada’s natural abundance.

“I would prefer to drink boiled or un-boiled water in Canada over in Taiwan any day,” says Chiang.

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For current boil water notices and water quality advisories, visit: http://www.health.gov.bc.ca/protect/dwadvisories.html.

Reprinted from The Source Newspaper.