Satisfactory progress in setting safety guidelines for drinking water

(Chapter 1—Safety of Drinking Water - March 2009 Status Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development)

Ottawa, 31 March 2009—Health Canada has made satisfactory progress in clearing the backlog of water safety guidelines awaiting review. It has also resumed routine inspection of drinking water on passenger aircraft belonging to the major Canadian airlines, says the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Scott Vaughan, in a Report tabled today in the House of Commons.

“Developing guidelines for the safety of the water we drink is an important federal activity. I am pleased that Health Canada has set up a process to update the guidelines regularly on the basis of scientific information and produce new ones as needed,” said Mr. Vaughan.

The federal guidelines establish the maximum acceptable concentration of contaminants in tap water in order to protect human health. The Commissioner’s 2005 audit found that 50 guidelines had not been reviewed or updated for at least 15 years. Since then, Health Canada has addressed the backlog and set priorities for reassessing higher-risk contaminants, and has accelerated the process of approving guidelines.

The audit found that Health Canada has also made progress toward verifying that drinking water on airplanes is safe. Its inspection program now covers the 13 companies that carry the majority of travelers on Canadian airlines. However, gaps remain in the inspection of smaller airlines and foreign airlines departing from Canadian airports. In addition, the regulations on drinking water for the travelling public still need to be updated.

“Health Canada still needs to close some gaps before it can assure Canadians that drinking water is safe on all common carriers under federal responsibility,” said Mr. Vaughan.

The Status Report follows up on the government’s progress in addressing issues identified in previous reports. Progress is deemed either satisfactory or unsatisfactory, taking into account the complexity of the issue and the amount of time that has passed since the original audit.  

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The chapter “Safety of Drinking Water” is available on the Office of the Auditor General of Canada website.

For more information, please click here.