2010-2011 Microcystins in Bottled Water

Executive Summary

The Food Safety Action Plan (FSAP) aims to modernize and enhance Canada's food safety system. As part of the FSAP enhanced surveillance initiative, targeted surveys are used to test various foods for specific hazards.

The main objective of the Microcystins in Bottled Water targeted survey was to:

  • generate baseline data regarding microcystin levels in bottled water available on the Canadian retail market

Cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, are commonly found in surfacewater algae blooms or blue-green scumsFootnote 1. Cyanobacteria can produce a group of hepatotoxins called microcystins, which are the most common cyanobacterial toxins found in waterFootnote 2. The presence of microcystins in water may result in an unpleasant taste and odour, and may cause illness in people consuming these toxins. It is also possible that extended exposure to low levels of these cyanobacterial hepatotoxins may have long-term or chronic effects in humansFootnote 3. Microcystins have been identified as a significant threat to freshwater supplies by the World Health Organization (WHO)Footnote 4. Microcystins may be present in bottled waters available at retail if they are present in the water source used to manufacture the final bottled product and if the water is inadequately treated.

Health Canada has proposed a maximum limit of 1.5 micrograms per litre (µg/L) for total microcystins in drinking waterFootnote 5.

The 2010-2011 Microcystins in Bottled Water survey targeted both imported and domestic bottled water (unflavoured, carbonated and non-carbonated) packaged in plastic and glass bottles. Three hundred samples were collected in various locations across Canada. Each sample was analyzed for the most commonly-occurring hepatotoxins, microcystins and nodularin.

All 300 samples tested did not contain detectable levels of microcystins or nodularin. Thus, 100% of the samples tested were compliant with Health Canada's proposed maximum limit for total microcystins in drinking water.

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