Iqaluit working on GN requirements to lift water order

Staff hasn’t given a timeline for when work will be complete

Iqaluit’s water treatment plant. The Government of Nunavut has set out eight requirements the city must fulfill for the GN to pull back a do-not-consume water order issued in mid-October. (File photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Updated: Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021

The Department of Health has set out several requirements the City of Iqaluit must meet before people in the city can start drinking their tap water again.

It’s been nearly five weeks since the territorial government issued a do-not-consume water advisory following the discovery of fuel contamination at the Iqaluit’s water treatment plant.

The list is extensive, with a number of measures meant to demonstrate not only that the water is safe to drink, but that city staff understand how fuel got into the water treatment plant and what work is needed to scrub it out.

“The important thing is that the [water treatment plant] is back online, delivering safe drinking water,” wrote Health spokesperson Danarae Sommerville in an email to Nunatsiaq News.

City staff need to provide three sets of clean test results, taken on different days, from areas throughout the water treatment plant and distribution system, Sommerville said.

The city will also need to swab and test the city’s water pipes to ensure there is no fuel remaining in city infrastructure.

There is also a requirement to produce a report that shows how the fuel entered the system, what the source of the contamination was and why other areas of the water treatment plant didn’t end up being as susceptible to contamination as the one tank where the majority of the fuel was found. That report needs to be reviewed by a third party.

Fuel primarily tended to collect in one underground tank at the water treatment plant, called the North Clear well. On Oct. 12, before cleanup began, hydrocarbon levels in that tank were several hundred times higher than Canada’s Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. For example, levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, in the tank on that day were 600 times higher than what’s considered to be safe.

If the city cannot provide recent testing for bacteria, Sommerville said issuing a boil water advisory will also be one of the criteria.

The city also needs to create three plans, including an outline of how it plans to monitor its water system, a contingency plan in case fuel enters the system again, and an explanation of what remediation work is being done.

The city has hired engineering firm WSP Canada to carry out much of this work. Representatives for WSP gave a presentation to council on Monday, which included some raw testing data and how it’s now believed the fuel entered the plant.

This diagram shows where fuel is believed to have entered Iqaluit’s water system, and where it collected. (Graphic courtesy of City of Iqaluit)

There is strong evidence that the spill came from an historic underground fuel storage tank that was a part of the original water treatment plant construction in 1962,  said Ian Moran on behalf of WSP.

The underground fuel storage tank is located within the void, which is the space between the water treatment plant and exposed bedrock. The intent of the void is to provide an air barrier between the water treatment plant and the external environment. All evidence suggests that the contaminant entered into the water treatment plant through a wastewater collection tank. Upon entry to this tank, contaminant vapourized, and wicked into the Raw Water Storage Tank. From the Raw Water Storage Tank, the contaminant passed through the water treatment system and ultimately collected in the North Clearwell.

WSP has also placed a real-time hydrocarbon monitoring system in the treatment facility.

Iqaluit’s chief administrative officer Amy Elgersma told council on Monday that the city has hired a company to clean up the historic fuel spill that is the suspected source of contamination.

She said the city doesn’t have a timeline for when the work will be completed.

Sommerville said the GN is working on a presentation of test results the territorial government has collected from municipal water samples, and that it will be presented to the public when it’s completed. She gave no indication of when that will be either.

Correction: This article has been altered from a previous version to accurately describe the contaminants’ pathway into the city’s water system.

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(12) Comments:

  1. Posted by John W Paul Murphy on

    Well done DoH staff and Dr. Patterson.

    It appears that someone is attempting to get ducks in a row and get the hamlet to do what should have been addressed in the 60s

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  2. Posted by Thanks nunatsiaq on

    Why are we consistently getting more information from the media than from our own mayor and council and CAO?! It is unacceptable and ridiculous. All trust has been lost with this administration. I , as well as many others ,will be happy when the term is up. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

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    • Posted by Council on

      Yes, but Council meetings are public and this was livestreamed so you could have watched- updates are also posted on the City website, and you can hear them on the radio a couple of days a week too. People need to be responsible for finding information that is put out there. Plus, it’s the media’s job to report on information that is released, so it makes sense that they’re doing this. This article wasn’t a scoop or an investigation, this was a report on something that was publicly released.

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      • Posted by Koolaid on

        Council sounds like they have been drinking the water. Lol did the mayor tell you it was safe? Awe

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        • Posted by Koolaid Jammers on

          Better than listening to the mayor…listen to science! Test results are all coming back good. Check it out for yourselves- it’s on their website.

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      • Posted by tired of the run around on

        I and others have listened and watched your council meetings, and there always seems to me information that was lost or skipped over. when someone mentions this or asks a hard/direct question we get a word salad without an answer to the question. do you honestly believe that if you talk for long enough we will just walk away?

        the CAO, mayor and council keep trying to shift the blame for what happened, what happened to all your talk about being responsible leaders for your community.

        they continue to evade the subject of their negligence in the initial response. face it your not the good guys in this. you want to be redeemed, take responsibly

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  3. Posted by Step in on

    Hopefully with the new premier in place, someone will step in and save this council from drowning. It has been evident that they are in way over their heads with a lunatic mayor driving the bus. Less photo ops and more time working on tangible solutions mr mayor!

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  4. Posted by Bert Rose on

    Let’s think about this.
    At the beginning of the week the Mayor and Council broadcast a full disclosure of the events.
    Now GN releases details of ” must does” before they will lift the Do Not Drink order.
    Seems like the City was way ahead in keeping the public informed and the GN were very slow to respond with somewhat vague directions.

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    • Posted by noona on

      Seems like the GN is being careful and is making sure the City is doing the same. The City has a record of not being cautious enough.

  5. Posted by Wondering on

    How could fuel not be found in testing when people were saying they could smell it and taste it? Is the testing used here outdated? Someone please explain this. Help me understand how it wasn’t found earlier. It doesn’t make sense. People want answers.

  6. Posted by Confused on

    What the above diagram does not show is where the supposed leaking tank is in relation to where the contamination is believed to have occurred. Is it close by? Also was the gravity filtration system drained and cleaned? Is water still flowing through this filtration system. Still far to many un-answered questions regarding this situation!

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