If you live somewhere with a properly monitored and treated water supply, then you may feel that you can trust what you drink. For the most part, that is true—most people in the U.S. and Canada have access to trustworthy drinking water. However, even the best water filtration systems can go wrong thanks to human error, leading to preventable deaths. Usually, by the time that people can identify and correct the problem, there have already been irreversible health consequences on a large scale. Here are two recent times when contaminated water managed to sneak through, thanks to human incompetence.


In Ontario, Canada, the small community of Walkerton saw nearly half of its population of 5,000 fall ill thanks to a severe E. coli outbreak. However, some health officials knew that there was a problem, and did nothing to prevent it.

The public utilities commission had the water supply tested on May 15th, 2000, and two days later learned from its testing laboratory that there was E. coli contamination in the water supply. However, even when many locals started exhibiting the symptoms of E. coli over the following days, the commission insisted that the water supply was safe. It took them until May 23rd to admit that there was a problem, and that some of the chlorine-adding equipment had been broken for a while.

Seven people died, and the man who had withheld crucial information about the water supply’s safety was sentenced to a year in jail.


In the city of Flint, Michigan, over 100,000 residents may have been exposed to dangerous levels of lead in their drinking water, including 6,000 to 12,000 children. City officials took over a year to admit there was a problem.

When Flint switched its water supply to the Flint River in August 2014, their drinking water began to show elevated levels of lead, due to corroding old pipelines. By January, residents were complaining, and by February, the Environmental Protection Agency had identified that lead levels were seven times higher than the acceptable limit in one resident’s tap water. However, even following further studies, the mayor and other officials continued to declare that the water was safe. It took until late 2015 for the city to address the issue, at which point the problem had escalated such that the city, then the state, then the U.S. President all declared a state of emergency and sent aid.

Evidently, there was a big problem with the city’s reaction time. However, the lead only entered the water supply in the first place because the city decided to cut costs on the process of switching its water supply—the entire incident could have been avoided if they had simply followed environmental regulations.

Help Prevent the Next Disaster

If you have suspicions that your community might be the site of the next preventable water contamination event, you can consult water-testing companies like AquaKnow for testing kits and access to testing laboratories. You can contact AquaKnow by phone at 877-734-7661 or 817-788-5716, or by email at info@aquaknow.com.

Photo credit: jronaldlee via Foter.com / CC BY