Canadian town ordered not to drink water after petrol leak into supply

·4-min read
The Iqlauit waterfront is seen on 19 August 2011 (Wikimedia Commons / Sebastian Kasten)
The Iqlauit waterfront is seen on 19 August 2011 (Wikimedia Commons / Sebastian Kasten)

Residents of a Canadian town have been told not to drink the water after a petrol leak into the area’s water supply.

People in Iqaluit, the capital city of Canada’s northernmost territory Nunavut, have been advised by the town’s Department of Health to avoid drinking or using the water for cooking for the time being as it might contain petroleum hydrocarbons, CTV News reported.

Neither boiled nor filtered water have been determined to be safe.

“Pregnant women, newborns and infants should not take baths or be bathed in tap water. Do not use tap water to mix infant formula,” a public health advisory issued on Tuesday stated.

The city, which has about 8,500 residents, has said that doing laundry, cleaning and taking showers remains safe to do, but residents have been told not to swallow any water if they take a bath.

The public health guidance comes days after residents complained about the smell of fuel coming from their taps.

“Active investigation of the city’s drinking water system and additional testing of the drinking water are ongoing,” the advisory states. “The Department of Health anticipates receiving additional test results from out of territory environmental laboratories in about five business days.”

An emergency meeting of the city council took place on Tuesday, during which councillors said that a notice to not drink the water must be issued when risks are detected and they are connected to water consumption that cannot be made safe by boiling the water or publishing a water quality advisory.

“This can include, for example, a chemical spill near water intake or where a water system may have been subject to vandalism or an event that resolution through additional disinfection protocols happened,” chief administrative officer Amy Elgersma said during the meeting. “In this case, we suspect that there is some type of petroleum product that has entered the water system.”

Residents who get water from trucks have been asked to run their taps dry and empty their tanks. The city will provide chlorinated water for its residents, residents receiving water via truck will get their tanks refilled, and others will be able to get water at designated public spots but have been asked to bring their own water jugs to fill up.

Councillors added that residents getting their water from a river should boil it before use as the water hasn’t been treated.

“There have been reports since Saturday, a week ago, that there’s a smell in the water,” Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell told CTV News. “But it was so erratic, in multiple different places and towns, that we really couldn’t pinpoint it. But all of our tests that we normally undertake daily, weekly and monthly, all passed the national standard.”

“We knew there was something wrong and of course the investigation continued with the government of Nunavut and ... they ultimately found what they believe to be the source of the petroleum products,” he added.

“There’s a well in our treatment centre, a closed well that they opened and a strong smell of petroleum products came out of it,” he said. “We’re not sure how that got in there because it is a closed system.”

Tests are being conducted on the water in the well to determine its source.

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