Timeline: What’s in the water?

Key developments in Iqaluit water crisis

Iqaluit’s water emergency began in early October when residents of Nunavut’s capital began complaining of an odour in the city’s drinking water. (Photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

By Nunatsiaq News

In October, Iqaluit residents began complaining about an odour in the city’s drinking water. After nearly two weeks, the City of Iqaluit told residents to stop drinking municipal tap water because it suspected some form or petroleum product had contaminated the city’s water system.

Here’s how Iqaluit’s water crisis unfolded:

Oct. 2

  •  Iqaluit residents begin complaining on Facebook about an odour in municipal tap water; some report illnesses, including headaches and dizziness.

Oct. 4

  • City of Iqaluit inspects water treatment plant, takes water samples from half a dozen areas; tests come back clean; water meets national standards, Mayor Kenny Bell later says. City says daily water tests came back “satisfactory” and suggested chlorine might have been the cause of the odour.

Oct. 12

  • Mayor says city staff detected “strong smell of gas” coming from containment tank used to hold chemicals for treating water.
  • City releases a second statement that all city water that had been tested met national standards. City announces decision to hire an engineering firm to investigate further.
  • Mayor tells residents not to drink the city’s tap water. It’s OK to bathe in it, though pregnant women should avoid it.
  • Mayor called to emergency meeting with Government of Nunavut officials.
  • City of Iqaluit declares state of emergencyduring special council session. “We suspect that there is petroleum — some type of petroleum product — that has entered the water system,” senior administrative officer Amy Elgersma says.
  • City opens filling stations at the library and Arctic Winter Games Arena to distribute water trucked in from Sylvia Grinnell River; some Iqalummiut go to the river to fill jugs themselves. City recommends boiling river water before consuming.

Oct. 13

  • Government of Nunavut buildings in Iqaluit close for the afternoon due to water issue.
  • Government of Nunavut buys 80,000 litres of bottled water to be flown into Iqaluit from the south and distributed.

Oct. 14

  • Government of Nunavut declares a state of emergency to “ensure the necessary supports are available” to the city and its residents and to allow it to “deploy necessary resources” to protect public health and city infrastructure.
  • First shipments of GN’s bottled water purchase arrive in Iqaluit; gone within hours. More shipments expected in coming days.

Oct. 15

  • Mayor Kenny Bell says 15-month vacancy in city’s public works department not connected to contaminated water system. System had been overseen by CAO and two superintendents.
  • 5 p.m.: Tests show “exceedingly high concentrations” of fuel in a water storage tank, city CAO Amy Elgermsa says during press conference alongside Mayor Kenny Bell and Nunavut chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson. Risk of long-term health effects to people who consumed water in “is not a concern at this time,” Patterson says. Do-not-drink advisory remains in effect while city flushes its system. No clear date for water supply to return to normal.
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(9) Comments:

  1. Posted by Ilaapalualuiit on

    As a team, how can you say “Exceedingly high concentrations” in one breath and then “is not a concern at this time” in the other breath?

    Sounds very confusing. No amount of fuel should ever be consumed.

    So we will know if there is a concern once people start to show symptoms later ??

    • Posted by Mace on

      A few things to add to your timeline..

      October 5 – City of Iqaluit releases a statement in response to social media posts about the drinking water. They say “The City of Iqaluit is responding to concerns on social media that were posted this past weekend about an odor in the drinking water. The City tests and monitors drinking water daily.
      All test results are satisfactory.”
      This leads residents to logically conclude they mean they have been testing for petroleum, since that’s the smell people are complaining about. They are incorrect. The city had only been testing for bacterial contamination.

      October 10 – using his “Mayor Bell” Facebook account (I have screenshots), Kenny Bell comments on a post on a local Facebook page:

      “… the water is safe and the city and GN are still investigating the smell.”

      “..it may smell like diesel but it is not diesel. The water is safe and meets all national standards.”

      “… The city and GN are still investigating the smell but there is absolutely no fuel in our
      water and it meets national standards.”

      “The city believes there is a smell, that’s why they are continuing to test but even
      with the smell they water is safe and meets all national standards for drinking

      “There is no fuel in Iqaluit’s water.”

      These assurances once again, lead concerned residents to believe that water has been tested for petroleum all along.

      • Posted by Mace is right on

        I hope NunaNews adds Mace’s facts to the NN story’s timeline. For days and days Kenny was obsessively checking and publicly responding to all resident’s FB posts that their water still smelled or tasted of fuel, concerns and expressions of fear about their health effects by telling them and everyone that the city water being satisfactory. He dismissed us. He made lots of people feel and look little or stupid. He disbelieved. He made out people couldn’t distinguish between fuel and chlorine. Kenny thought he could gaslight the problem away.

      • Posted by Fail on

        So the mayor was making assurances that there were no hydrocarbons in the water and the city wasn’t even testing for hydrocarbons at that time? Is this the level of competency at the helm of the city of Iqaluit?

      • Posted by Carpe Diem on

        Just to add to the timeline

        From the Media Advisory – Results of City of Iqaluit Water Testing:

        City’s own words
        29:25 “We sent out rushed samples to a lab to have them analyzed” (Oct 4th)
        29:55 “The City did take this very seriously” (Oct 4th)
        41:00 “On the 4th of October we rushed out the hydrocarbon tests”
        David’s Question at 45:55 is good one. The response not so much when trying to not look negligent.
        46:20 ” We didn’t know what the problem was” (Oct 4th)
        -Not knowing what the problem was and telling the community it is fine, is negligence.
        They never decided to tell the public about rushing out samples, (Oct 4th) especially for Hydrocarbons? How many would have stepped back from the tap after hearing this?

        Oct 5th FB Post Notification
        The FB post had zero traction. 9 people shared the post, a few likes and a few comments. The post showed no urgency about potentially harmful water. They didn’t even boost the FB post (pay a little money so many more people see it) to get more traction. I was in town on the 6th, I follow the City and the Mayor, and had no idea this was happening until the 12th. I drank at least 20 litres of this water in this time from the Plateau. I use a Brita so I couldn’t smell the water. It wasn’t until the 12th that I smelled a cup of straight tap water and it reeked of Diesel.

        34:25 -was an absolute mess of a message. Can someone translate?

        46:10 -was not a good explanation and showed negligence.

        The fact that they don’t test for hydrocarbons, even though they have a failing infrastructure underground next to a Diesel plant, is outrageous. This might have been leaking for a long time

        I went to the hospital Oct 9th for a very weird sore throat that I had from Sept 28th. (In Iqaluit) They couldn’t discover anything. After days of boiling river water my throat cleared up. I wonder how many others went to the hospital, or have symptoms of poisoning. Maybe a FB page should be created to collect that information.

        • Posted by anon on

          I was getting headaches every day starting the last week or so of September, until the 12th when the DNC order came out. My kid had a stomachache on the 7th-8th, which is so unusual that I wrote it down in my planner.

          I’m sure the contamination has been present for a while, because if it was all of a sudden it doesn’t make sense that the inspections can’t find any visible cracks.

    • Posted by Observer on

      It’s because something can be at a high concentration compared to what it’s supposed to be at, yet still be at a low enough concentration that short-term exposure isn’t that dangerous.

      For instance, carbon monoxide in the average home is about 5 parts per million, at most. If it gets up to 100 or 150 parts per million, you can say that’s an “exceedingly high concentration” for a home, but it’s not going to kill you, only give you a headache after a few hours and won’t have any long-lasting effects if you deal with it.

  2. Posted by Water on

    Good to see the timeline in one place. It would be good to include that water was not available at the announced time on Tues Oct 12 due to some pumping challenges, that it was only available at 10:30 pm, that thee was a bit of frustration and panic for some in town, and that communication from the city was wanting at the time (it has greatly improved since). As well the CPHO told us on Fri health effects from contaminated water consumed for a few days should not last given the contaminants that were not found in the water (benzene and such not found).

  3. Posted by Jack Napier on

    Make way for Mayor Shepard.


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