Canadians: Do You Know If There Are Forever Chemicals in Your Drinking Water?

Trent University on the Otonabee River, an unprotected drinking water source for Peterborough, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

You should know, but do you?

If you live in Canada, chances are that you have no idea, even if they are there.

Forever Chemicals

PFAS (Per- and Polyflurooaklyl substances) are a family of almost 12,000 human-made ‘forever chemicals’ that are effective at repelling grease, water and stains, as well as combatting certain types of fires. They exist in cookware, food packaging (e.g. pizza boxes), stain resistant carpets and clothing, some cosmetics, outdoor gear (particularly rainproof stuff), and even dental floss. Some Brand names include Teflon and Scotchguard.

Given that PFAS persist in the environment for hundreds of years—and are already in the bodies of 99 percent of Canadians sampled, they are known as forever chemicals. Not only are these forever chemicals persistent, they are highly mobile in air and water, allowing them to disperse easily over long distances and contaminate groundwater and drinking water. Drinking water is one of the main sources of PFAS to Canadians.


Health impacts associated with exposure to PFAS include developmental effects or delays in children (including low birth weight, accelerated puberty, and behavioural changes), disruption of thyroid function, increased risk of ulcerative colitis, increased risk of tumors and some cancers (e.g. prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers), reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections, including vaccine response, and increased cholesterol levels and risk of obesity.  Many of these disorders are associated with PFAS acting as an endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC), which allow them to interfere with our hormone systems (e.g. sex hormones, thyroid, others). PFAS chemicals also affect our biology by mimicking fatty acids—the building blocks of fat in our bodies and foods we eat.

The Map

On March 22, 2023, the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) released a map of Canadian airports and military bases contaminated by forever chemicals PFAS. The sites identified on the map are known or suspected to be contaminated with Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS). The information only came to CELA after they pried it from the Canadian government by filing a petition with four other environmental organizations on August 10, 2021.

Known and suspected PFAS contaminated sites in airports and military bases in Canada (CELA)

CELA reported that “information on PFAS contaminated locations across Canada is not readily accessible and available to the public.” CELA compiled this map to create awareness about this family of forever chemicals and to promote increased transparency about these nasty chemicals in our environment. “Communities who live near these sites should be asking questions about the quality of their drinking water,” said Fe de Leon, researcher at CELA.  

Canada Falling Behind in Responsible Public Awareness

Countries in the European Union and the United States have publicly available details on the sources of PFAS to the environment and are moving forward with proposed action plans to address PFAS. Canada has no such plan and its information access to Canadians on PFAS in Canada is abysmal.

Example: Community of North Bay

The community of North Bay, a PFAS contaminated hotspot from past Department of National Defence training activities, remains relatively ignorant about the contamination and its dangers to the community. Northwatch reports that none of the agencies involved (the City, DND, the local health unit and local office of the Ministry of the Environment) held a community meeting to discuss issues of this nasty chemical with residents.

Residents who live near manufacturing plants that release PFAS into the local environment or where sewage treatment plants discharge PFAS effluent into local waterways need to be informed.

“Environment Canada and Climate Change should require that the producers and users of all forms of PFAS annually report their releases and disposal of all PFAS from their facilities through Canada’s public inventory known as the National pollutant and Release Inventory,” says John Jackson, co-chair of the Toxics Free Great Lakes Bi-national Network.

Over 12,000 PFAS chemicals currently exist on the market, most unregulated (see my article on DuPont’s horrific cover up of PFOA contamination of a community’s drinking water and EPA’s complicity).

Asking the Canadian government for better transparency and more accessible information on the location and sources of PFAS contamination is imperative for the welfare of Canadians. CELA writes that “there are unsuspecting communities across the country that should be asking our government to regulate these toxic substances by banning their use and production.”

Companies are stealing, hiding, lying, and cheating. This is not hyperbole; check out my report on DuPont’s heinous crime and deceit of over five decades. By not taking them to task, the Canadian government and the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change is doing the same thing to its citizens.

History of Use and Abuse

19503M shows that PFAS bioaccumulates in blood of mice
1956Stanford University study finds PFAS binds to proteins in human blood
1961DuPont finds PFAS enlarges rat and rabbit livers, confirming toxicity
19893M study finds elevated cancer among PFAS workers
2019PFOA (proven carcinogenic and endocrine disruptor) banned globally under Stockholm Convention. It is only one of two PFAS regulated globally (out of over 4,000 PFAS chemicals in current known use in 2019; in 2023 the number of PFAS chemicals is 12,000). All other PFAS chemicals are not regulated to date.
Heavy rain in Mississauga, ON (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” was released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

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