Don’t drink the tap water, Iqaluit mayor tells residents

A state of emergency has been declared in Iqaluit after city staff found evidence of fuel contamination in the city’s treated water supply. The water is unsafe to drink, even if filtered or boiled, according to the municipal health department.

In an interview with Nunatsiaq News Tuesday, Mayor Kenny Bell said every part of town was affected, whether water is delivered by pipes or by trucks. 

“It’s everything. Any treated water,” he told the paper. 

Bell called an emergency city council meeting Monday evening, where councillors voted unanimously to declare a local state of emergency. The motion also called on the territorial and federal governments to fund temporary measures to help get water to households. 

Iqaluit residents were seen stocking up on bottled water at stores around town Tuesday and collecting water from the nearby Sylvia Grinnell River. 

A shopper purchases cases of bottled water in Iqaluit Tuesday. More than 7,000 people live in the city; the entire municipal water supply is affected by the apparent contamination. (Matisse Harvey/Radio-Canada)

The city has more than 7,000 residents, all of whom will now need access to alternative sources of water. 

Tap water can still be used for laundry, cleaning and showers, the health department said in a news release, but it should not be used for bathing by pregnant women, or newborns and infants, and it should not be used to mix infant formula. 

“We suspect there is some type of petroleum product that has entered the water system,” chief administrative officer Amy Elgersma told council Tuesday evening. 

She said staff had located “concentrated odours” in the water treatment plant. It’s sent samples for testing and expects results in five business days. 

The advisory not to drink the water was issued because this is a situation where boiling the water will not make it safe, Elgersma said.

How to get water

Elgersma says the city will make chlorinated, treated water available for residents. 

She said starting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, clean drinking water was available at the Arctic Winter Games Arena and next to the library downtown for residents who bring their own jugs. 

Those without jugs can call the city’s water hotline at 979-5603 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., excluding the lunch hour. 

Those on trucked water will get deliveries in their tanks, she said. Those residents are asked to first empty their tanks, by running water taps and flushing their toilets. 

She also reminded residents gathering water at the Sylvia Grinnell River that water from the river needs to be boiled for one minute before it’s safe to drink. 

In a news release Sunday, the city had said it was investigating concerns about a fuel odour in the drinking water, but that drinking water testing to date was “satisfactory.”

It also said additional testing and monitoring was underway. 

Many people could be seen purchasing bottled water in Iqaluit on Tuesday. City councillors met Monday night and declared a local state of emergency. (Matisse Harvey/CBC)

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