The first shipment of drinking water to Iqaluit residents arrived by plane Thursday after the rooster water in the Nunavut capital was considered non-potable and potentially contaminated with oil.
The city has ordered 80,000 liters of water, and four-liter jugs were distributed in a community of about 8,000 people.
The city said in a release that residents get a maximum of four jugs per. Household and encourages people to keep them for future use.
The city on Tuesday told residents not to drink the tap water after a fuel odor was discovered at the treatment plant and later declared a local state of emergency.
Agnico Eagle, which operates several mines in the territory, says it is sending 15,000 gallons of water to Iqaluit on a cargo flight scheduled to land tomorrow.
The Nunavut government also stated that the city was in a state of emergency on Thursday, allowing it to have more authority to allocate its departments and public bodies under the Emergency Preparedness Act.
“I want to assure the people of Nunavut, especially those in Iqaluit, that we take this water issue very seriously,” said Jeannie Ehaloak, Minister of Community and Public Services.
Samples sent south
Meanwhile, residents have continued to collect water at Iqaluit’s Sylvia Grinnell River, including volunteers fetching water for neighbors, elders and those without vehicles.
Water samples have been sent to a laboratory in southern Canada for testing and are expected back in the coming days.
A professor at the University of Saskatchewan who has worked at Iqaluit says any amount of fuel in drinking water is unsafe, but drinking it in the short term is not necessarily dangerous.
Steven Siciliano, a microbiologist and toxicologist who has researched the north, says the city did the right thing by telling residents as soon as it found the smell.
Siciliano says Iqaluit’s regular water tests look for bacteria, not hydrocarbons. But the human nose is “incredibly sensitive” to hydrocarbons, meaning people can smell it even when there is a very low amount, he said.
Siciliano said prolonged exposure to compounds found in gasoline can be “very risky”, but drinking it for a week or so is unlikely to do much harm.
“It’s not like if you have a cup of water, you’re poisoned for the rest of your life,” Siciliano said.
Despite this, Siciliano says the situation in Iqaluit is urgent and a solution must be found as soon as possible.
“If they drank it before they found out there was fuel, I don’t think they have serious cause for concern. Going forward, is that OK? Absolutely not.
In comparison, he said that smoking one or two cigarettes a day does not give a person cancer, but it will probably smoke a pack a day.
“It’s a bit like that with water. Do you drink it every day for a week? Won’t give you cancer,” he said.
“We do not know how much fuel there is. They may not be fuel in there – that’s the good news.”
A struggle to get water
Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster, Iqaluit’s deputy mayor, said some people were still having trouble getting water on Wednesday.
Among the various scenes from this week’s water crisis, she said one stood out: a woman “jumped frogging” her water supply back to her home.
“[She] had a jug of juice and a pot full of water, “Brewster told CBC’s Matt Galloway, host of The current, on Thursday morning. “She walked about five feet, put the pot down, went back and picked up the jug, went to the pot.”
“There are a lot of people in our city who actually don’t even have jugs to carry water,” she said.
Brewster is on leave from his role on the city council to run in the upcoming territorial election. She, like the other candidates in her riding, spent the last day filling buckets and jugs to bring to the residents.
“I have been driving from house to house using social media and my cell phone so people can contact me and tell me they need water,” she said.
“There is a huge section of our population that does not have access to water,” Brewster said, referring to barriers such as taxis and lack of public transportation in the city.
‘Aging and crumbling’ infrastructure
The exact cause of the problem is still unclear. But Brewster blames the city’s ongoing water problems for its “aging and crumbling” infrastructure.
The long-term solution, she said, is money — about $ 100 million — from all levels of government.
She says the city’s reservoir is too small to meet its needs, which in turn limits the building and adds to Iqaluit’s housing crisis.
City Councilor Sheila Flaherty said she and her husband, Johnny, have also helped provide water to the residents and she is also concerned about the people left behind.
“There are many families and households that do not have jugs of water to actually transport water away, whether it is from the river or from the water trolley depots,” Flaherty told CBC’s Carol Off it. As it happens Wednesday.
“We try to cope as best we can with what we have faced in front of us.”