Drinking Water Testing – Private Citizen

Specimen Collection and Handling

Specimen Requirements

Test Requested Required Requisition(s) Specimen Type Minimum Volume Collection Kit

Total coliform and E. coli

Private Citizen drinking water for single households ONLY

200 mL (to the fill line on the bottle)

PHO laboratory water collection bottle

Submission and Collection Notes


Specimen Type:
Private Citizen drinking water for single households ONLY (i.e., private drinking water systems such as a private well), is defined as: Potable water from any source which is protected from surface or ground water contamination, regardless of any filtration procedure and / or chemical disinfection applied, is aesthetically acceptable, and serves fewer than 6 private residences but not to the public. For analytical purposes, water passing through a point-of-use treatment device will be regarded as a private water source.


PHO laboratory water collection bottle. Other collection bottles are not accepted.


Collection information:
The collection kit may be picked up at your nearest PHOL or public health unit.  Follow the water sampling instructions.

Timing of Specimen Collection

Ensure adequate time to collect and transport the sample to the laboratory. It must be tested within 48 hours of collection.  


Samples will not be tested if the acceptance criteria are not met.

Drinking water that falls under one of the Ontario drinking water regulations O. Reg. 170/03 or O. Reg. 319/08 (e.g., city water that is treated and provided by a municipal source) will not be tested. Owner operator(s) of public drinking water systems must use licensed and accredited commercial laboratories for their routine testing.

Preparation Prior to Transport

Place the completed form in the plastic bag supplied and wrap it around the collection bottle with the elastic band.  

Specimens should be stored at 2-8 °C following collection and shipped to the drop off location inside insulated containers or in a cooler.  Pack with frozen ice packs.  Do not freeze samples.  Samples received at the laboratory above 25 °C will not be tested.  Submit samples as soon as possible; they must be tested within 48 hours of collection. Check your local public health unit for drop off times.  PHO laboratory drop off times are listed on the PHO Water Testing webpage.

Special Instructions

All drinking water must be tested within 48 hours of collection in order to comply with the purposes of the Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002.

Requisitions and Kit Ordering

Test Frequency and Turnaround Time (TAT)

Samples are only accepted at the laboratory Monday – Friday during regular operating hours.

Turnaround time is up to 4 days.


Results are reported to the individual indicated on the requisition and not released by fax.  The results are available by: 

a) Mail: The report is sent to the name and address that appears on the requisition.

b) Picking up the report at the laboratory: If this was indicated on the requisition, photo identification is required when picking up the report. A designate may pick up the report at the laboratory with photo identification and a completed Potability of Water Release form. Alternately, a Freedom of Information request may be submitted to the PHO Laboratory Customer Service.

c) Telephone by calling the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) 1-877-723-3426 / Teletypewriter (TTY) 1-866-828-2238 and keying in the sample barcode.

For TTY calls:

  • Call 711 with your TTY device or follow the instructions provided by your telecommunications provider to call the Relay Service Operator.
  • Ask the operator call 1-877-723-3426 and press 1 for English.
  • Give them your barcode number and ask them to follow the prompts.

Clients requiring assistance with the interpretation of results or advice on the correct course of action are to contact their local public health unit.

Test Methods

Drinking water specimens are tested by the Membrane Filtration method for the microbiological indicators Total Coliform and Escherichia coli (E. coli) (method modified from MECP E3407:  Membrane Filtration Method Using DC Agar for the Simultaneous Detection and Enumeration of Total Coliforms and Escherichia coli in Drinking Water).

Public Health Ontario Laboratories hold a drinking water testing license (Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP)) and drinking water tests, which are limited to the scope of testing, are accredited by the Canadian Association for Laboratory Accreditation Inc. (CALA) to ISO 17025.


For general inquiries, please contact the PHO Laboratory Customer Service Centre.

Samples are not tested for other contaminants, including chemical contaminants, and therefore may be unsafe to drink even if there is no significant evidence of bacterial contamination. Consult your local public health unit for more information about testing for other contaminants.

It may be necessary to refer the sample to another licensed laboratory within the PHO laboratory system for testing, other than the laboratory to which the sample was initially submitted. Submission of a drinking water sample with the test requisition means the submitter accepts Public Health Ontario’s accredited methodology and grants consent to the transfer of the sample to another PHO laboratory, if required.

For information about the PHO laboratory drinking water testing licenses and accreditation click this link.

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Laboratory Services


Updated 20 July 2020