City of Iqaluit may have found source of water contamination

Historic fuel spill discovered beside water treatment plant

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. (Photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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 litres 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 licence allowing water to be drawn from the Sylvia Grinnell River, he said.

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(29) Comments:

  1. Posted by Into the deep on

    “In addition to the hydrocarbon, engineering experts believe the inaccessible below-ground void may also contain Mayor Bell’s humility.”

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  2. Posted by Dude Town on

    Thanks for approving the water license to allow us to drink from our river! You guys so good to us!
    Historic spill — great! No one working now needs to feel responsible then.

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    • Posted by Historical on

      Last week was history. Has Qulliq or NCPC been leaking diesel fuel? For how long?

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  3. Posted by Answer the question on

    The million dollar question and the trillion dollar apology remain… why did the city issue a statement stating the water was safe to drink when they had not yet received the results of the test for hydrocarbons?

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    • Posted by Just a guess on

      If it is like anything else we see in the usual orbit of governance in Nunavut, the answer will be a combination of incompetence, hubris and complacence.

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  4. Posted by USA on

    Must be something from back when it was a USA base. Like everything else they touch and turn to sh*t, they will do nothing to help after the damage is done.

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  5. Posted by Old Glory on

    How big is the void?
    Where is it?
    How and when was it created, and by whom?
    How did fuel get into this “inaccessable void”?
    Why is fuel coming out now?
    How did fuel get from the inaccessable void” to the sealed, underground tank?
    Is “inaccessable void” just another name for “sealed tank”?
    So many questions, so little information.

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    • Posted by Query on

      Your question “Why is the fuel coming out now?” is the right question. How long have Iqaluit residents actually been ingesting these contaminants?

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      • Posted by anon on

        I was getting daily headaches starting in about the middle of September. They stopped when I stopped drinking the tap water.

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  6. Posted by Kls on

    Fuel!!!!! How in the name of God can fuel not be detected in the water ? Is the water testing so poor here that it’s not checked for? Only in Iqaluit are there more unqualified people doing jobs they have no business, or experience, doing.
    That said, hats off to all the people getting fresh water to the people of Iqaluit.

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    • Posted by A concerned citizen on

      We keep hearing this refrain. Mr. Bell may not be qualified, or suitable, to be the Mayor of a capital city. But, the situation will not change until qualified people are prepared to put their names forward to run for office. Congratulations to everyone who put their names forward in the Territorial election. Perhaps, one or two of Iqaluit’s fine defeated candidates – as well as a few others – will step forward to challenge Mr. Bell in the next municipal election.

  7. Posted by John W Paul Murphy on

    The question for me is what came first at that location? The oil spill or the plant?

    hmm someone, some company, some government (City, GN, or the GNWT if it goes back that far) or any combination is in deep kaka for this happening.

    Either someone did not report the spill or some group built the plant on contaminated land, (Which leads to even more questions), What is happening too most of downtown Iqaluit where it is allegedly all on contaminated land.

    Going to be, and, rightfully so, a long investigation and hello insurance companies.

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    • Posted by Ask the Elders on

      Ask the elders.
      People, back in the day, saw what was done or not done.
      You know the resurfaced runway in Iqaluit. I’ve been told by elders who saw the original runway being extended many decades ago, that there are lots of barrels buried underthe runway.
      You don’t bury empty barrels. They eventually rust and your runway collapses. Those barrels were full of something that needed disposal.
      I’d bet there are waste sites under much of Iqaluit.

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  8. Posted by Purification location?? on

    Where is the armed forces setting up the water purification system? Please tell me it’s not at the breakwater?

    City has been flushing gas-water for days, which is running into the bay. Our waste water treatment is basically to filter out solids and then release the ‘liquid’ into the bay.

    Can the City/GN/army assure citizens that this purification side show will produce safe water?

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    • Posted by Northern Guy on

      This is a freshwater reverse osmosis treatment plant developed by the Military’s DART team to assist in overseas disasters. It doesn’t deslainate so it won’t be anywhere near the breakwater. The military has done this dozens of times around the world they will find a suitable freshwater source.

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  9. Posted by “Has Been Hunter” on

    In the late ’70s going to GREC leaving home for the first time, Frobisher Bay was the metropolis of the north. This was pre-expansion when there were still relics from the cold war era in and around the community. There was also a spot near the Catholic Church where fuel spilled and the area was contaminated. Would be of no surprise if there had been other environmental mishaps since these were days before regulation of toxic substances. Mayhaps they have found the source.

  10. Posted by Go Figure on

    The thing that I don’t understand is why Mayor Bell is soo keen on posting Tweets and will not admit to any misinformation relayed to the Public.

    QEC plant should be investigated, check the soil around the tanks they have up there!!

    Councillor Kyle please stop dictating when kids should go trick or treating. As it is up to the parents to send their kids out not the City of Iqaluit. You guys have done enough damage where Amy and Mayor Bell won’t even resign

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    • Posted by Pain In The Groen on

      Not that it is of any relevance to this story but Hallowe’en is Hallowe’en and the city has every right to remind people that trick or treating is on Sunday. In Igloolik the municipality is encouraging the activity on Saturday, which is fine but is silly.

      Hallowe’en has been held on October 31st since time immemorial. There is no reason to change it in Iqaluit at this time. Covid restrictions are lifted and people don’t give out tap water for a treat. Take a chill pill and let the kids have their fun.

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  11. Posted by Out with the incompetent on

    Will a new , qualified mayor please stand up?

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  12. Posted by Northern Guy on

    “Historic fuel spill”. Nice choice of words that try to make it look the spill doesn’t bear any relationship to the harebrained decision to put the city’s water treatment plant adjacent to the city’s power generation plant with its attendant storage tanks and pipelines. If its “historic” then it becomes a federal problem and not a municipal one … nice try.

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    • Posted by 70’s GREC student on

      Since the early 70s the water plant and power plant have been right by each other. Back then it was run by NCPC, the federal commission that powered communities all across the North, including Yukon and north provinces. (So yes, responsibility could b3 federal.) When I read “historical,” I wondered if it meant ‘historical and buried’ for maybe 40-50 years.

  13. Posted by aputi on

    PROTEST to have them REMOVED, too many chief not enough Indians these days

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  14. Posted by Accessible inaccessible void? on

    Somebody please explain what an inaccessible void is! What kind of garbage excuse terminology is this? No explanation from the city? Do they expect people to just except with garbage. So fuel leaked into an inaccessible void? Is this what is now expectable in terms of an explanation? Come on council. Do any of you even know what this means?

  15. Posted by Investigators on

    Who are these investigators? Why so much secrecy.

    • Posted by Brandon on

      I believe the City is doing the investigation.
      Kenny got to Go!!
      Let’s Go Kenny!!

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