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Panel assesses contaminants in wastewater

May 2, 2018  By Ground Water Canada

Waterloo, Ont. – The findings of an expert panel appointed to conduct a national review of contaminants in municipal wastewater are available in a new report, which will be presented to municipal water leaders at Blue Cities 2018.

The report, entitled Canada’s Challenges and Opportunities to Address Contaminants in Wastewater, is the result of a panel appointed in 2017 by Canadian Water Network, with financial backing from Environment and Climate Change Canada, the CWN said in a news release.

“Wastewater management is critical to all Canadians,” said Donald Mavinic, expert panel chair and professor of civil engineering at the University of British Columbia. “Over the past decade, we’ve seen an increase in contaminants in wastewater which can have adverse effects on public and environmental health.”


In the past, Canada’s wastewater systems were designed to treat human organic waste. However, as the wastes generated by our society have increased in complexity, so have the challenges of dealing with them, the CWN said. Pathogens, nutrients, metals, pharmaceuticals and microplastics are some of the known and emerging contaminants of concern found in our wastewaters. The expert panel was tasked with assessing which contaminants are priorities, whether treatment options are available, and the tradeoffs and opportunities involved.

Across the country, wastewater treatment is highly varied, reflecting more than a century of solutions developed in response to different geographic settings. Communities along coastlines, on the prairies, or in remote Northern locations have different needs, and the panel says that designing community-based solutions remains key. However, there is currently no national system in place to collect and share this information with municipalities or to share research results and innovation.

The panel notes that keeping contaminants out of municipal systems through source control is more effective than trying to remove them from wastewater. They provide a blueprint for action with seven recommendations, including the need for an integrated watershed approach that is risk-based and informed by environmental monitoring. The blueprint also suggests government incentives to encourage communities to go beyond minimum standards, accelerate research and technology transfer, and favour solutions with meaningful co-benefits.

During their six months of deliberation, the panel consulted with other experts across Canada, gathered case studies and scanned the literature in key areas of relevance. For a summary of their key findings, as well as the full report in both official languages, visit

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