Report casts doubt on City of Iqaluit’s water contamination theory

City believes culprit was historic fuel tank; GN-hired firm won’t rule out other possibilities

The City of Iqaluit believes this fuel tank is the source of a fuel contamination discovered last fall at the water treatment plant. A firm hired by the Government of Nunavut doesn’t believe there is enough data to support this theory, and recommends work to mitigate all possible sources of contamination. (Photo courtesy of the City of Iqaluit)

By Randi Beers

Iqaluit’s water emergency is over, but it’s still going to take months of work to safeguard the city’s water treatment plant from possible future contamination, according to a risk assessment prepared by a consultancy firm hired by the Government of Nunavut.

The territorial government hired Wood Environmental and Infrastructure Solutions in late October to review work done by the city’s hired consultancy firm, WSP Canada, after fuel contaminated the city’s water late last year.

The six-page report, prepared by Wood, was obtained by Nunatsiaq News through Nunavut’s access to information law.

The City of Iqaluit started receiving reports about a smell in the water on Oct. 2. Ten days later, the city and Department of Health told people to stop drinking it, after a strong gas-like odour was discovered in a tank at the water treatment plant. Fuel levels in that tank later were found to be more than a million times higher than what Canada’s drinking water guidelines consider to be safe.

The city’s water emergency lasted two months, ending on Dec. 10.

WSP concluded that the contamination came from a forgotten, decades-old fuel tank that was found in an underground area just outside the plant called “the void,” and the city has endorsed this conclusion.

But a risk assessment, prepared by Wood engineer Jack Hinds on Nov. 25, casts doubt on that explanation.

“Wood continues to believe that there is insufficient data gathered to date to verify that the single suspected source and transport mechanism resulted in the [water treatment plant] contamination,” reads the report.

“In addition, focusing on a single potential source of contamination could cause other potential sources to be overlooked, and present future risk to the facility.”

That’s why Wood has recommended the city commit to another, more thorough, risk review, on top of more than 30 other tasks designed to protect Iqaluit’s entire water treatment system from contamination. 

Most of the work was expected to be complete before the do-not-consume order was lifted, but several items fall under a March or September deadline.

The report does not discount the risk of tampering, and recommends security upgrades at the plant, including the replacement of a “missing door” on the west reservoir, repairs to a door on the east reservoir, and installation of a secure hatch on the exterior access to the treatment plant’s surge tank.

It also recommends “locking of all [treatment plant] doors, with controlled access to keys/fobs.”

Another portion of the report is focused on risks posed by Iqaluit’s diesel power plant, which is located near the water treatment plant.

The city is asked to request Qulliq Energy Corp. provide updated procedures for the handling of fuel, and confirmation that the power plant’s fuel and oil lines are double walled, have leak detection and are regularly inspected.

The report also asks for confirmation that QEC has a protocol in place to notify the water treatment plant immediately in case of a potential spill.

A portion of the report identifies the risk of “unknown pathways” of contamination, and seems to hint at some unfamiliarity over certain aspects of the water treatment plant itself.

Wood asks for comprehensive plans for the water treatment plant, including “as-built drawings,” identifying all available information from the 1962, 1999, and 2008 water plant plans, and updated information about all modifications to date. That includes plans for the recently installed bypass system, and a “verification of tank interconnections, valving, piping, drains, etc.”

By September, Wood wants the city to have identified all underground tanks at the water treatment plant and have completed a “permanent isolation of these tanks.”

Wood recommends follow-ups in March and September to make sure the longer-term tasks are complete.

The Department of Community and Government Services is working with the city to implement the recommendations in the risk assessment, with oversight from the territory’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, according to a statement from the department.

The City of Iqaluit has finished some work identified in the report, including the installation of two online hydrocarbon monitoring stations along the water treatment system.

Wood recommended these monitors be hooked up to alarms, which would trigger a system shutdown and callout to dispatch if they were to go off.

On Dec. 16, the alarm on the city’s treated water monitoring station sounded, and staff found elevated hydrocarbon levels in one of the treated water tanks.

The city issued a news release about the incident on Jan. 6, saying the problem was caused by maintenance at the plant.

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(27) Comments:

  1. Posted by Trust issues on

    This is insanity. How can we trust anything the city is telling us? Both the mayor and administration need to be held accountable. Is the water still contaminated? Who knows. This third party assessment needs to happen now and needs to cover not only the GN but the City.

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    • Posted by Scott on

      So an environmental engineering firm investigated the water treatment plant after the other engineer and their recommendations were “fix door” and “upgrade lock system”. If these are the key items of the report that are making the news, I’m not buying this headline.

      If they found something legitimately concerning, Patterson wouldn’t have lifted the DNC two weeks later.

      But hey, there may be “unknown unknown pathways” that two engineering firms couldn’t find so we should all be super concerned.

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      • Posted by Huh? on

        If that’s what you got from the article, I’m not buying you read it properly but hey, I’m just another worried resident that doesn’t trust the city anymore.

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        • Posted by hmm on

          “Most of the work was expected to be complete before the do-not-consume order was lifted….”

          Do not consume order was lifted and the remainder of items have clearly defined deadlines so I’m also not buying you read it properly.

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            • Posted by hmm on

              Ohh Lawdy that’s funny. I suspect Kenny has better things to do than engage in duels of wit with unarmed opponents.

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  2. Posted by still here on

    I wonder if the amount of rain we had this year, could have resulted in permafrost melting causing this issue? if this is the case the real culprit is proper drainage did not exist, A non permeable membrane needs to be installed completely around the water system. I am not an engineer, lets see if I am right when this is fully clear and dealt with.

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  3. Posted by what’s up? on

    Nunatsiaq, have you given up on reporting about the current situation with covid in our communities?

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    • Posted by R man on

      I’m glad Nunatsiaq reported on this. If there are still potential concerns with our water supply, we all have a right to know. Please keep the information coming!

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        • Posted by Loop on

          That’s what the article is about. So yeah, it kind of is the point. They did a covid article right after this one.

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  4. Posted by Uvanga on

    They should install camera’s at the water reservoir, this is to ensure that if any tampering done, they will be convicted of a criminal offence since water is part of a human’s livelihood.

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  5. Posted by Abraham on

    In our initial assumption we thought it was the power plant and an old tank up hill. That theory seems to be more true over time. But a burried fuel tank would leak for sure too.

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  6. Posted by Water sucks on

    I sure hope the official recommendations and report don’t cost the GN $400 an hour like that time they couldn’t put the dump fire out. Sounds like a very professional organization doing the report but I hope they are fair to the GN. Also still nothing new but it would be nice if the residents were able to have trust and faith in their city council , mayor and officials. Not a good look for the whole crew.

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  7. Posted by Atatsiak on

    City of Iqaluit needs to take it up the chin with a grain of salt. Admit you did wrong and stop the finger-wagging out towards QEC.

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  8. Posted by Ominous Cello Solo on

    Wasn’t this the plot twist in the second half of Jaws?

    Bounty hunters catch a respectably large shark and the Mayor enthusiastically organizes a big press conference and celebration to reassure everyone that the danger is past and everyone goes back to the beach and out on their air mattresses and small sailboats.

    Only the plucky heroes – the town’s sheriff, a marine biologist and a crusty old sea dog) still have doubts that the shark caught is the real maneater!

    Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies!

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  9. Posted by pissed off on

    Historic tank all you want !”!!!

    This tanks alongside the building had been there for a very long time.
    So it is a very long list of previous caretakers going back to NCPC, Qulliq Energy , the GNWT and then the GN and the Town have been asleep at the switch.

    Anybody taking over a new property should have assessed the place, looked over the plans if they existed at the time and reviewed potential risks with measures to remediate any possible issue. Anybody that would want to buy anything nowadays has to do so to get insurance coverage or financing.
    This is elementary responsibility of ownership.

    So all those people that passed along the system to the next one are responsible from years passed including the present owners, the Town .

    Very poor management all along.
    Thanks

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    • Posted by Winner winner on

      That would require proper city planning, and proper inspections being done. None of which has ever been done here. Half of lower base is built on sand and melting permafrost, that leeches oil every summer. That oil is making its way into the beach water. You can see it in the water flowing out on the beach in lower base, the iridescent slimy film on the ground water. Much of Iqaluit is built on top of the garbage left by the US military, most of it would be deemed hazardous by todays testing standards.

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  10. Posted by Shame on

    How depressing. Kenny bell promised to be better and do better and to be more transparent. He has let us down time and time again. How many more years of his reign can we take? This is turning into quite a scandalous affair , almost like a game of clue. Guess he shouldn’t have been so hard in previous mayor especially considering the job he has done.

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    • Posted by Water sucks on

      When they (politicians) fail to perform In the public’s best interest eventually they meet their demise , it’s simply unavoidable when you are on center stage and just not doing a good job. Simple resolution do better and be better and vote better. As they say live and learn but it’s unfortunate so many have to pay at the cost of “learning a lesson” when it comes to things related to politics and leadership. On the other hand it’s not like he or anyone in office caused the fuel contamination but they handled the issue poorly at the public’s expense.

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      • Posted by hmm on

        Good luck with this. Kenny has frequently stated to many people that his intention is to be a 1-term mayor.

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        • Posted by Hopeful on

          Here’s hoping.
          Iqaluit can’t take a second term of this buffoon.

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  11. Posted by hmm on

    Speaking of transparency, it would be great to have a link to the report. It used to be common practice for Nunatsiaq to publish a Scribd link to any document that they were reporting on.

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  12. Posted by Engineer on

    Iqaluit is the poster child for what is being done wrong in the North. Lack of planning, mismanagement and neglect. Building on a ex military toxic waste dump, building on unstable sand, and no longer permanent permafrost. In the rush to spend those millions given out by Ottawa, Northview just keeps on plunking down their eye sores with no type of proper engineering, or heck, even foresight. Who builds a 30 unit apartment building and alots not enough parking for each unit?

    What municipality would keep blindly approving variances, and building designs that end up creating more problems? Iqaluit is one of the only places with permafrost that buries their septic and water underground, what bird brain thought that was a good idea?

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  13. Posted by Jimmy on

    Great photo, by the way.

    Three city government employees, STARING at the job, hands in pockets LOL

  14. Posted by Joe on

    So…does the federal government bring the military back? What’s with the weird negative messaging from the government when they we making water?

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