Common Water Problems

Water is one of the simplest substances known to man yet one of the most critical to our health and survival. It is also one of the easiest substances to contaminate.

Called "the universal solvent": water has a tendency to dissolve a little of everthing with which it comes in contact, from beneficial elements to harmful chemicals, minerals and other contaminants.

While Canada has one of the safest water supplies in the world, there are a number of factors that can affect the taste, appearance, hardness and overall safety of household water – including everything from a heavy rainfall causing excessive agricultural runoff to the presence of lead or copper pipes in your home. That's why we recommend having your water tested if you have any concerns about quality.

Here is an overview of the most common water quality problems:

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Aesthetic Contaminants

These otherwise harmless contaminants such as chlorine, sulfur, iron and manganese are often the culprits behind taste, colour and odour problem.


Both a natural and manufacturing-induced ground water contaminant, arsenic has been linked to various cancers and may damage the circulatory and central nervous systems.


This fibrous mineral contaminantes water naturally or through its past use in concrete water pipes. Asbestor has been linked to lung and other forms of cancer.

Biological Pathogens

These waterborne organisms typically enter drinking water from human sewage or animal fece and can cause disease in humans. They include cysts as Cryptosporidium and Giardia; bacteria such as typhus, fecal coliform and cholera; and viruses such as influenza. These organisms typically cause unpleasant interstinal disorders and can pose a significant threat to the immune-impaired.

Heavy Metals

Metals such as mercury, zinc, copper and cadnium usually enter the water supply as industrial waste and, in excessive concentrations, can cause physiological damage to humans, including damage to the central nervous system.


Used extensively in plumbing materials (pipe and lead-based solder) until the late 1980s, lead can leach into water supplies. Elevated levels of lead have been linked to learning disabilities in young children and high levels can cause hypertension in adults.

Low/High pH

PH refers to "potential of hydrogen" and is a measure of acidity or alkalinity on a 14-point scale (zero through six are acidic; seven is neutral and eight through 14 are alkaline). Extreme measures of acidity in water can be corrosive, whereas high alkalinity can be source of aesthetic problems.


Nitrogen compounds are sometimes found in ground and surface water in rural areas, often as a result of nitrogen-based fertilizer runoff. Excess nitrate levels can interfere with the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood, especially in babies, and have been linked to high incidences of miscarriages.


These naturally occurring radioactive elements have been linked to cancer in humans. Radon is found in gaseous form and is absorbed through drinking as well as through inhalation during washing or showering.


Solid particulates in water that can settle out over time, sediments in water are typically an aesthetic concern.


Trihalomethanes (THM) are by-products produced when chlorine reacts with organic compounds in water. THMs are primarily absorbed through inhalation, and have been linked to bladder and rectal cancer as well identified as a cause of miscarriages.


High concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOC) such as petroleum distillate, benzene, MTBE and the industrial degreasing compound trichloroethylene have been linked to organ damage and cancer in humans.

Water Hardness

Hard water contains excessive levels of the minerals calcium and magnesium, a condition in 85 percent of Canada and the United States. Hard water shortens the life of household plumbing and water-using appliances, makes cleaning and laundering tasks more difficult and gradually decreases the efficiency of water heaters.