Information Update - Health Canada proposes guidance to protect Infants from Algal Toxins in Drinking Water

Starting date:
June 17, 2015
Type of communication:
Information Update
Subcategory:
Other
Source of recall:
Health Canada
Issue:
Contamination
Audience:
General Public
Identification number:
RA-53821

Issue

Health Canada and the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Committee on Drinking Water are updating advice for parents of young infants when it comes to using tap water to prepare infant formula during blue-green algal blooms.

Canada's drinking water guidelines set a maximum level for algal toxins in drinking water that is protective of the health of the general population, including young children. As a precaution, Canada is proposing a change to this drinking water guideline, recommending that drinking water authorities advise residents to use an alternate source of drinking water, like bottled water, when preparing infant formula during an algal bloom or when microcystins are detected in drinking water.

This revised advice for infants comes as a result of a collaborative assessment of the science on toxins from algal blooms by Health Canada and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. It takes into consideration the possible increased exposure of bottle-fed infants (up to age one) to microcystins because of their high intake of water in relation to their bodyweight.

This advice is being shared now as we are approaching algal bloom season in Canada. The recommended change will be formally reviewed as part of a public consultation on the draft drinking water guideline later this year, and any updates will be further shared with Canadians.

Microcystins are toxins produced by a certain type of bacteria called cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria, also called blue-green algae, are bacteria that form naturally in lakes, rivers and wetlands under the right environmental conditions - warm, slow moving, shallow water, abundant sunlight and nutrients.

When a large number of these cyanobacteria form, this is called a bloom. Certain species of cyanobacteria produce toxins that are stored in their cells, and which can be released in water when the cells rupture or die. These toxins can pose a risk to the health of humans and animals, affecting the liver or the nervous system.

In Canada, the cyanobacteria species more commonly found produce microcystins, which are toxins that can affect the liver.

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