City of Iqaluit releases more test results as water emergency continues

Data shows results from tests carried out between Oct. 16 and 31

Ian Moran (left) and Charles Goss from WSP: Canada, the consulting firm hired by the City of Iqaluit during the water emergency, present water test results to city council on Monday. (Photo by David Venn)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The City of Iqaluit has released a new set of water test results while residents continue to wait for officials to say it’s safe to drink tap water.

People in the city have been told not to consume city water since Oct. 12, because of fuel contamination in one of the tanks at Iqaluit’s water treatment plant.

The raw data, presented by Charles Goss and Ian Moran of consulting firm WSP Canada, captures city testing from Oct. 16 to 31.

This graph shows levels of fuel contamination in City of Iqaluit’s water between Oct. 12 and 31. While most of the plots on this graph are based on data gathered by the city, the first plot point, on Oct. 12, is based on territorial government testing.

Not included in the raw data are results from Oct. 12, when residents were still drinking the water. But those results do appear on a graph included in Monday’s presentation. The graph shows extremely high concentrations on that day of petroleum hydrocarbons classified as F2, which includes diesel and kerosene, in the water treatment plant’s North Clear well.

The North Clear well was drained and bypassed in mid-October.

Amy Elgersma, the city’s chief administrative officer, said the Oct. 12 results weren’t included with the raw data because it’s based on GN testing.

The territorial government has been doing its own testing, and on Oct. 22 released graphs that show some information about the scope of the fuel contamination.

The GN has yet to release all of its findings and the city doesn’t know when that will happen, said Mayor Kenny Bell.

The city and GN have been sharing data with each other for the investigation, though, and Goss did comment on what he’s seen, in a general sense.

“I don’t think that any of the data that’s been observed by us so far have indicated that there’s going to continue to be a bad situation following the remediation,” Goss said.

Goss and Moran would only comment on the city’s test results, but the data tells a “good news story,” said Bell.

The data is broken down by the location the sample was taken from, the contaminant tested for, and date. Results came back non-detectable for xylene, ethylbenzene, lubricants and oils, gasoline and solvents and heavy oils.

Diesel and kerosene were detectable four times in four different locations between Oct. 16 and 31, the highest amount being 570 ug/l in the city’s treated water reservoir, which exceeds the Canadian drinking water guidelines by about 46 per cent.

Coun. Kyle Sheppard pointed out the size of one microgram, or ug/l, in comparison to a litre of water.

“These are miniscule, miniscule amounts,” Coun. Kyle Sheppard said.

Goss and Moran explained fuel doesn’t mix well with water, and stayed at the top of the holding tanks, while water is drawn from the bottom of the tanks.

“This prevents most petroleum hydrocarbons from entering the distribution system,” Goss said.

He explained the water likely hadn’t been contaminated for long, because people can smell the hydrocarbons at “incredibly low” concentrations.

“Just those very small amounts would have been the amounts that people would have been starting to taste,” Goss said.

But everybody has different levels of sensitivity to these chemicals, which explains why reports to the city were so random and sporadic, said Goss.

All told, the city has spent $1.5 million so far to investigate and clean up the fuel contamination, as well as on water distribution, and there still is no timeline for when people will be able to turn on their taps again for a glass of water.

The city needs to complete a set of requirements set out by the territorial government before the GN will lift the advisory.

Council approved another $100,000 Monday night to install a bypass system within the water treatment plant that will allow water to skip its two underground holding tanks.

Officials have also installed a real-time online water monitoring system that is able to detect hydrocarbons at extremely low levels of contamination.

As well, WSP Canada is working an emergency response plan and upgrades to the water system to prevent contamination from entering, Moran said.

Already completed is the first phase of remediation, which involved removing contaminated water in the tanks and groundwater surrounding the treatment facility, Elgersma said.

The second phase, removing the source of the contamination, which is most likely from an underground fuel tank that dates back to 1962, is underway.

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(18) Comments:

  1. Posted by “miniscule” amounts are still serious on

    Councillor Shepard should know that no matter how miniscule the amounts are compared to a full litre; that it’s still not okay to be there in the first place. They (contaminants) are literally measured in such tiny increments because that small amount could still be bad for a person, especially for those who are pregnant, nursing an infant, or have pre-existing health issues. And how are they going to say it “likely wasnt contaminated long” when residents continued using contaminated water for 10 full days? The city mucked up with that first 10 days so they should just own up to it and quit trying to water down the information as a way to make it appear not as bad.

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    • Posted by Right! on

      I agree! Kyle needs to keep quiet on the science if he’s going to stray from the facts. Yes, it is a small unit but it’s 46% higher than the safety guidelines. That is not minuscule!

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    • Posted by Minuscule? on

      It’s beyond disappointing to hear an elected official downplay any level of water contamination, when his responsibility it to ensure its safety.
      You know what’s minuscule around here? Accountability, reassurance, and compassion.

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      • Posted by River Rat on

        Yah, downplaying contamination during a crisis is not a good look. Why does the city keep shooting itself in the foot with poor communications throughout this?

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    • Posted by Full context is important on

      I am not saying that water contamination is something that should ever be minimized – however, I am not interested in rushing to judgement about what Kyle had to say, because this is just one sentence repeated in an online story. Was there more information before or after his comment that would provide more context? It isn’t possible to judge because I wasn’t there, and didn’t hear the entire conversation. And I think that the readers need to keep that in mind as they read any news story.

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      • Posted by I watched the meeting on

        I watched the council meeting. Kyle’s miniscule comment was the first thing he said after the presentation and the very first comment by a member. The context is an attempt to downplay. It was completely patronizing, kind of man-splaining, and gaslighting.

  2. Posted by Tap water drinker on

    So the water is technically good to drink and has been for the last few weeks..? Just waiting on the GN to lift the order.

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    • Posted by Amazed & Amused on

      It probably need not be said, but the GN is a chronically slow, bumbling and dysfunctional organization that sadly can not be depended on to ever “get it right”… ever.

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      • Posted by MARS on

        I disagree with your comment as it pertains to this situation. The health department is ensuring that the water is safe to consume beyond a reasonable doubt before it lifts the do not consume order out of an abundance of caution. They are employing experts to ensure the city’s test results are accurate. Essentially they are not playing with our health and allowing the science and experts to confirm the water is safe to drink.

        We do not want another, ‘yea the water is fine’ like we had at the beginning of this fiasco from the City.

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  3. Posted by Let’s Go Brandon!! on

    Watered down information?

    Just resigned already Kenny!
    Mr Shepard is no expert is chemicals so his opinion is useless.

    Let’s Go Kenny!!

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  4. Posted by Hahahah on

    Is Kyle Shepard serious? Does he actually think his impression of all of this matters? LOL

    God, I love people who think they’re experts on a topic but actually know absolutely nothing.

    Do you ever just stay quiet? You have zero credibility but yet we see your name every there

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  5. Posted by We won’t forget on

    Still no answers as to why the mayor and CAO issued a statement stating that the water was safe and allowed residents to continue to consume contaminated water when they did not have all facts to issue that statement? We won’t forget! Also why is the mayor asking such trivial questions and stating he doesn’t know the answers? . This man is at the helm of an operation in which he does not have qualified expertise and has pretended to act as though he was qualified to speak on the situation for the last two months. Get this man something that will stop the door from hitting him in the way out.

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    • Posted by Iqaluit Resident on

      Kenny will never answer that question, his ego is too high, he needs to get down from his high chair and resign already, some one show him the door. every meeting with Kenny is no progress.

      Someone go give Kyle a miniscule hug and a kiss, he is totally lost.

      Lets Go Kenny!!!!!

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    • Posted by Lacking Communication on

      The Mayor and CAO should not have communicated the water was safe to drink if they did not conduct test related to fuel. I do not fault the Mayor and Council for the fuel getting into the system, that is well beyond their responsibilities. However I do fault them for communicating that it was safe without any information to rule out fuel contamination, and I do fault them for not holding the CAO accountable to have a team in place to monitor and oversee public works. No Public works director for nearly two years is unacceptable. If the CAO cannot be HONEST with the public about drinking water and cannot build a QUALIFIED team, then council needs to ask for them to resign!

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      • Posted by anon on

        Don’t forget that the water samples they rushed for hydrocarbons at first either weren’t sampled properly or weren’t shipped properly, so they came back inaccurate.

        • Posted by anon2.0 on

          The initial samples were taken and shipped at the direction of the lab. I don’t know about you, but when a qualified, accredited lab gives directions that are followed, I don’t think that’s doing them wrong….

          And I’m pretty sure that the CAO said Public Health (the ONLY group that can issue the DO NOT CONSUME order) was called almost immediately after an official report was made to the city. Public Health took their time getting the Do Not Consume in place.

          • Posted by wondering how many anon comments are city sponsored on

            putting aside the fact that the city should have staff that know how to take a water sample since they should be doing it regularly. it is not the responsibility of a 3rd party lab to train city staff in how to do their job.

            as for public health, if the city had contacted them it wouldn’t have taken 10 days. public health response time for boil water issues has been measured in hours, becuase they are professionally responsible (and held responsible) the moment they are contacted. if the city had suspected something and didn’t have the trained personnel to deal with it (seeming more likely by the day) they could have contacted public health for support and they would have experts who have done this water sampling before. the only reason why the city wouldn’t do this is if they valued “saving face” over the lives of their community.

    • Posted by Shir on

      At the meeting the Mayor and SAO were asked why the timeline jumped from October 2 to October 12 with nothing in between, and they were asked what happened in between that time. An answer was given, but as usual, it was a word salad and the answer contained nothing about how the Mayor used his Mayor Bell social media accounts to comment on public posts, insisting that the water was safe to drink and had no fuel when they had absolutely no reliable test results to back that up.

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