The Alberta Centre for Toxicology tests drinking water to make sure it’s safe to drink. They use the
Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality set by Health Canada to report levels of trace metals in drinking water that can be harmful to your health. To understand your drinking water trace metals analysis results, use the information below.
Depending on the metal, the guidelines that are used to test your water can be based on health and safety (maximum acceptable concentration), effects like taste and smell (aesthetic objective), or impacts on water systems (operational guidance values).
Maximum acceptable concentration (MAC) is the highest amount of a metal in drinking water that is safe for a person to drink. This value is set to protect an average person from getting sick based on the average amount of water we drink.
Aesthetic objective (AO) looks at metals that can change the taste, smell, and look of your drinking water. The AO is used to decide if people will use or drink the water.
Operational guidelines (OG) are followed when a metal in the water may affect water treatment, damage pipes, or damage plumbing fixtures. OG values are meant for large water treatment systems and do not normally apply to private well water supplies.
If your water test shows high levels of any of the following metals, contact Alberta Health Services
Environmental Public Health. They can give you information about treatment devices for your home water supply.
Talk to your doctor if you have questions about metals in your drinking water and if they could affect your heath.
Guideline:MAC: 2.9 mg/L
OG: 0.05 mg/L (for treatment systems that use aluminum flocculation)
OG: 0.1 or 0.2 mg/L (for other treatment types)
How it can get into water:
What you need to know: Studies in animals and humans have found that high levels of aluminum can cause problems with the nervous system.
Guideline:MAC: 0.006 mg/L
What you need to know:Antimony levels higher than the MAC may cause small changes in organs, including the thymus, kidney, liver, spleen, and thyroid.
Guideline: MAC: 0.01 mg/L
What you need to know: Arsenic levels should be kept as low as reasonably achievable. Drinking water that has arsenic levels above the MAC may increase your risk of:
Learn more:Is there arsenic in my drinking water?
Guideline: MAC: 2 mg/L
What you need to know:Barium levels above the MAC may increase your risk of getting high blood pressure and heart disease.
Guideline:MAC: 5 mg/L
How it can get into water: Boron is found naturally in soil. It gets into groundwater from:
What you need to know:
Learn more:Is there boron in my drinking water?
Guideline:MAC: 0.007 mg/L
What you need to know:Cadmium levels above the MAC may increase your risk of kidney damage. It can also soften your bones.
Guideline:MAC: 0.05 mg/L
Learn more:Is there chromium in my drinking water?
Guideline:MAC: 2 mg/L
AO: less than 1 mg/L
What you need to know: We need a small amount of copper in our diets to stay healthy. Drinking water that has copper levels higher than the MAC can cause:
Guideline:MAC: 0.005 mg/L
In Alberta, high levels of lead in drinking water usually comes from solder or lead pipes.
What you need to know: Lead levels should be kept as low as reasonably achievable. Higher levels of lead in drinking water can cause:
AO: less than 0.02 mg/L
How it can get into water: Manganese is common in soil, rocks, surface water, and groundwater. In Alberta, it is common at high levels in groundwater and surface water. Manganese can get into water from:
What you need to know: Manganese can:
We need a small amount of manganese in our diets to stay healthy. But drinking water high in manganese can lead to:
You are at the highest risk of developing these health problems if you:
Babies also have a high risk of developing these health problems if they drink formula that is made with water with high levels of manganese.
How it can get into water: Mercury is found naturally in soil, water, air, plants, and animals. Mercury can get into water from:
What you need to know: We need a small amount of selenium to stay healthy. We get most selenium from food. Eating food or drinking water with high levels of selenium can cause:
Learn more:Is there selenium in my drinking water?
Guideline:MAC: 7 mg/L
Guideline:MAC: 0.02 mg/L
What you need to know: Drinking water with higher levels of uranium over a long time can cause kidney problems.
Learn more:Is there uranium in my drinking water?
Guideline:AO: 5 mg/L or less
The following metals aren’t included in the
Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.
At this time, Health Canada has not found that these metals are related to any health concerns. Alberta Health Services collects information about these trace metal levels to better understand if they get into our drinking water from natural causes or from industrial activity.
Current as of: November 19, 2021
Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta
This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.