President’s message, summer 2018

It sometimes seems that every week a challenge to our drinking water emerges. How can you stay informed about the threats and solutions? Easily – if you’re an OMWA member. We keep members informed about water-related issues and events through our twice-weekly newswire, through our website, and in our upcoming Education Days.

Challenges can come from unexpected sources. Like our clothes and household cleansers. We’ve reported many stories about microplastics and nanoplastics – microscopic bits of non-degradable plastic that scientists now realize pervade our environment.

They’re a new and difficult challenge for water professionals.

Plastic is so ubiquitous that it finds its way into everything around us, even our drinking water. One study found plastic in 85 per cent of tap water samples taken from a dozen countries (in the USA researchers found plastic in 94 per cent of their samples).

Microplastics have been found in our lakes, rivers, in the ocean, and more alarmingly – in the bodies of aquatic life, including the fish we eat. They’re in our Great Lakes, too: the MOECC  (now the MEPC) found them in every sample taken in 2014.

This spring, researchers at the World Health Organization (WHO) tested 259 samples of commercial bottled water from 11 brands in nine countries. They found plastic in all but 17 of them.

Microplastics have been found in milk, honey and beer. This winter, British researchers discovered that microplastics worked their way up the ocean’s food chain, from plankton to fish to seals. Eventually they’re going to reach us.

Much of this plastic comes from our clothes – synthetic fibres shed during washing. Some of it comes from discarded items like food packaging that breaks down, from tires, from microbeads in cosmetics and personal hygiene products, and even from paint.

Is our tap water safe? Yes, as far as we know: modern drinking water filtration systems used in Ontario should remove the majority of them. However, not all of our wastewater treatment plants may be equipped to prevent them from being discharged into the environment.

No one really understands the impact of microplastics, at what levels they are toxic or their cumulative effect in the environment or in our food. More research and monitoring need to be done for water professionals to properly understand the scope of the problem – and to help water system operators plan for upgrades to infrastructure and equipment where necessary.

The Canadian government banned microplastics in personal care and cosmetic products as of January, this year. It’s a good start, but the problem is larger than just these consumer products. We laud government efforts to monitor the problem and explore solutions, and we encourage both levels to make this a priority.

The OMWA would like to see more R&D effort put into practical solutions that continue to ensure our municipal drinking water is safe, and we will continue to advocate for it on your behalf.

We’ll help you stay informed about microplastics and other water-related challenges and opportunities, and continue to advocate for sustainable solutions for our members.

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