Boil-water advisory for Arctic Canadian city after fuel smell returns to water

City of Iqaluit staff delivered clean water to the Elders’ Qammaq on Monday, Jan. 17. On Wednesday, the Nunavut government issued a boil water advisory for the city. (Steve Silva/CBC)

‘Precautionary measure’ as city is bypassing water treatment plant, say health officials

Residents of Iqaluit are being urged to boil water from the city’s supply for a full minute before consuming it, after Nunavut’s Health Department issued a boil-water advisory on Wednesday afternoon.

“The city has bypassed the water treatment plant due to recent contamination events,” the advisory stated.

It added residents should also boil their tap water if they are using it to wash food, brush teeth, cook, prepare infant formula or juices, or make ice cubes.

Nunavut’s chief public health officer says officials issued the advisory because the city detected a small amount of hydrocarbons in the water on Wednesday morning, after also having detected small amounts last Monday and Wednesday.

Dr. Michael Patterson says the amounts detected don’t cause any health concerns.

While the City of Iqaluit said in a separate news release the bypassed water, which is being piped in from Lake Geraldine, will continue to be treated using UV and chlorine disinfection, Patterson said officials don’t know whether it will be adequately treated.

“We’ll have to be doing tests,” he told CBC News, adding the water may look a little cloudy.

“So at least until we know the situation, it’s best to boil the water.”

Patterson, who said he has been continuing to drink the city’s water, added that water that doesn’t smell like hydrocarbons is safe to drink.

Fuel odour returned

Iqaluit began investigating complaints last week that a fuel odour had returned to its tap water. On Monday, Mayor Kenny Bell told CBC News the city had received 116 phone calls from residents reporting the smell since Jan. 12.

Between October and December of last year, Iqaluit’s 8,000 residents spent almost two months under a do-not-consume order for city water because its water system had hydrocarbons in it.

Because of that, the city built a bypass at its water treatment plant — part of a list of requirements from the territorial government in order to lift the do-not-consume order.

Patterson said on Wednesday officials still don’t know what is causing this latest smell in the water.

He said it’s possible some residual contamination from October is still in the water plant.

Another possibility, he said, is that hydrocarbons are getting in the plant through another route.

“The only way to know is to take the plant offline and do a thorough complete inspection and cleaning at the same time,” he said.

Bell said earlier in the week that crews started cleaning the water tanks Monday.

As Iqaluit flushes its water treatment system, the city has been distributing clean water at the Elder’s Qammaq, a local drop-in centre. Residents can pick up water between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. until this Friday.

Nunavut NDP MP Lori Idlout said in a statement the persistent boil-water advisories have made residents lose trust in the city’s water.

She called on the federal government help fix the Iqaluit’s ongoing water crisis. She said the city requested $180 million from the federal government last November to help with its aging infrastructure but hasn’t heard anything yet.

-With files from Jackie McKay

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: City in Arctic Canada says historical fuel spill likely source of drinking water contamination, CBC News

United States: Climate change is worsening water scarcity in rural Alaska says study, Eye on the Arctic

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