The results of water quality tests showed “extremely high concentrations of various fuel components,” Iqaluit’s chief executive said Friday, but the territory’s chief physician does not see major health concerns for those who drank the water before being asked not to do so on Tuesday.
The city of Iqaluit held a press conference at. 17.00 ET Friday to publish the results of tests of the city’s water supply, which was declared unsafe to drink.
Operators of water treatment plants discovered a concentrated odor in one of its tanks this week after residents reported smelling fuel in the tap water. The city told residents not to drink tap water Tuesday and later declared a local state of emergency.
Amy Elgersma, the city’s CEO, said that despite the high concentration of fuel in some water samples, it is difficult to quantify the concentration of fuel components that would be found coming out of residents’ taps.
The first shipment of 80,000 gallons of bottled water, ordered by the city, arrived Thursday as city cars and residents fetched water from the Sylvia Grinnell River.
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 Measures Act.
Long-term effects ‘not worried’
Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s head of public health, said there were no major health concerns for those who drank contaminated tap water.
“The best evidence we have available right now indicates that the risk of long-term health effects [are] not a concern at this point, “Patterson said.
People who ingested water that had been contaminated may have headaches, may have had stomach upset and diarrhea, he said.
“Such symptoms will disappear, generally within a few hours, when these hydrocarbons pass through their system,” Patterson said.
Suspected tank bypassed
The city has two water tanks in the ground, called the southern tank and the northern tank.
Elgersma said Thursday night that the northern tank – the one with the suspected pollution – had been isolated.
“The tanks were confirmed this morning that the valves are holding and the insulation was successful,” said Elgersma.
The city is running water through the southern tank now, and it is already showing noticeable signs of improvement, including a reduction in odor, she said.
It is a “really positive step”, said Elgersma. “Today we plan to pump the tank out with the problem. And we will then contain all that water in container tanks.”
The order not to drink tap water is still valid.
The water will be stored in the container tanks until the city knows what the pollution is so it can be treated.
Elgersma said the goal Friday is to empty the entire northern tank and then over the weekend inspect the tank and look for cracks or compromised areas.
“We really hope we can solve this problem quickly,” she said, adding that the city is “pleased with the success” of being able to isolate and circumvent the problem idea on Thursday.
Elgersma said that a consultant would also carry out an environmental assessment of the entire site for water treatment plants to look for possible contaminants in the soil.
“More holes are being drilled and test trenches are being dug and so on,” she said.
More bottled water, baby formula coming
Elgersma said the city will have a water tank on a trailer set up at each water storage site (the library and Arctic Winter Games Arena) and it will be refilled by a water cart all day.
The government in Nunavut is expected to bring in more bottled water. Three shipments are expected to arrive by plane on Friday, and the territory has ordered water jugs that people can also use.
Meanwhile, the city set up a water phone at 867-979-5603 for those who themselves were having trouble getting water.
Agnico Eagle, which operates several mines in Nunavut, said it is sending 15,000 gallons of water to Iqaluit on a cargo flight that is also due to land on Friday.
Elgersma said that ready-mixed baby formula has also been ordered, some of which will arrive on Friday.
She said the city also orders watering can filters, which can be used on water from the river after it is boiled, to bring people more comfort.
“We know it has been extremely difficult for the residents, for the businesses for everyone involved,” she said.
“There are a lot of people helping others, bringing water to others and doing what they can to help each other, and it’s really nice to see.”