Correction notice: This article incorrectly stated that North Bay’s tap water is “running safely below Health’s Canada’s newly-proposed PFAS guidelines”. This is incorrect. According to Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, concentrations of PFAS in North Bay’s drinking water are greater than Health Canada’s recently proposed PFAS objective, but less than current federal guidelines and Ontario’s interim advice value.
The northern Ontario city of North Bay says its tap water is running below current screening levels for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), but officials want to take extra steps to ensure the water remains PFAS-free, as work continues to manage contamination from a local airport, and Health Canada proposes new lower PFAS guidelines for drinking water.
Local officials say part of the $20-million landmark agreement with the Department of National Defence (DND) to treat the airport’s PFAS contamination will also fund a new study to evaluate options for enhancing its water treatment process to meet potential future regulatory changes.
“The study now underway is expected to be completed in the spring and will provide the city with options should additional treatment be required in the future,” North Bay officials said in a statement.
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The University of Waterloo is currently leading an interdisciplinary research team that hopes to unlock key information that will inform Canadian water systems about potential PFAS contaminants and treatment options that could impact millions of Canadians.
According to the City of North Bay, “the level of PFAS detected in North Bay’s municipal water supply remains lower than all current federal and provincial drinking water screening values.”
However, according to an email from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, “the concentrations of PFAS in North Bay’s drinking water are greater than Health Canada’s recently proposed PFAS objective (30 nanograms per litre) but less than current federal guidelines (600 nanograms per litre) and Ontario’s interim advice value (70 nanograms per litre).
As well, there is a longstanding drinking water advisory for Lees Creek remains in place, as well as a fish consumption advisory for fish from the creek issued by the province.
Past use of the North Bay Jack Garland Airport lands for firefighter training between the early 1970s and mid-1990s has been identified as the main source of PFAS on the airport property. The chemicals had leached into the surface water, soil, bedrock and groundwater surrounding the airport site.
PFAS were historically used in products such as cosmetics, textiles, firefighting foams and food packaging materials.