City of Iqaluit may have found source of water contamination

A historic fuel spill has been discovered near the Nunavut capital's water treatment plant.

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The City of Iqaluit says that investigators have found a historic fuel spill beside Iqaluit’s water treatment plant. Testing is underway to see if this spill is the source of contamination in the water supply. (Mélanie Ritchot / Nunatsiaq News)

The City of Iqaluit says that investigators have found a historic fuel spill beside the water treatment plant that may be the source of contamination in its water supply.

“Testing is underway to confirm that this is the source of the … concentrated hydrocarbon contamination,” states a Tuesday news release issued by city spokesperson Geoff Byrne.

The historic fuel spill is described as being in “an inaccessible, below-ground void” beside the water treatment plant.

A firm has been hired to “manage the spill and remove it from site,” the city’s statement said.

On Oct. 12, the city and the Government of Nunavut Health Department told Iqalummiut not to drink the tap water from the municipal water supply because it was suspected it had been contaminated with fuel.

That was confirmed publicly on Oct. 15, when the city’s chief administrative officer reported that tests of water samples taken from the contaminated underground tank showed “exceedingly high concentrations” of fuel.

The city has bypassed the contaminated tank and is flushing the rest of the water system of contaminated water.

Following the do-not-drink order, the city established filling stations to distribute water it has been taking from the Sylvia Grinnell River and the Government of Nunavut purchased tens of thousands of liters of bottled water to be given out.

Over the weekend, members of the Canadian Armed Forces arrived in Iqaluit to set up a water purification system to help residents access clean water.

“The City of Iqaluit is doing everything in its power to ensure that residents have safe and reliable drinking water,” the statement said.

On Tuesday evening, Iqaluit council voted during an emergency meeting to extend the local state of emergency it declared on Oct. 12 for another two weeks because the do-not-drink order is still in place.

In Ottawa, Northern Affairs Minister Daniel Vandal says the federal government is “fully seized” with the water issue in Iqaluit.

“A long-term solution is infrastructure-based,” Vandal said during a news conference on Tuesday where newly-appointed ministers answered reporters’ questions.

Vandal, who was reappointed to the cabinet position Tuesday, said he had conversations about a new water supply during his visits to Nunavut’s capital before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The Liberal government’s response includes the deployment of the Canadian Armed Forces to Iqaluit and his approval of a temporary water license allowing water to be drawn from the Sylvia Grinnell River, he said.