Water testing a hit-and-miss affair in Nunavik

Depending on where you are, Nunavik’s water can make you very sick


KUUJJUAQ — Don’t assume that the water flowing from Nunavik’s taps is clean: it could harbour bacteria that can give you anything from headaches to nausea, diarrhea, and even liver failure or death.

During the recent annual general of Makivik Corporation in Tasiujaq, visitors to the community were warned not to drink the water — but at least two fell ill anyway.

As it turns out, no one had been testing Tasiujaq’s water since mid-February, so the water could have been gravely contaminated.

Each community in Nunavik is supposed to test water in its water trucks once a week and send samples out for testing. If the test results show contamination, residents are supposed to boil their water.

Local water technicians then give the water an extra dose of Javex and clean the water trucks.

Minnie Abraham, the water technician for the Kativik Regional Government, keeps tracks of test results and makes sure the communities know whether or not the water is contaiminated.

A look at the table where Abraham tracks the results shows a line of white dots besides Tasiujaq’s name — this means there was no testing in the community for as many weeks.

A green dot besides a community’s name means the water’s been tested and is good, but a red dot means the water has been tested and is bad.

When a community gets a white or red dot, its residents should boil their water for 15 minutes.

Abraham said people in Umiujaq and Kangiqsujuaq always need to boil their water because their supplies are pumped directly from a lake or river, with no treatment beforehand.

Akulivik, Ivujivik and Tasiujaq have a dismal record of sending in their reports, which means residents are almost always told to boil their water.

The communities that send water samples most often are Kuujjuaraapik, Kuujjuaq and Puvirnituq.

But even in these communities, residents are often told to boil their drinking water, because samples sent for testing don’t always arrive at the labs within the required 48 hours.

Due to spring run-off, Abraham cautions that this time of year is particularly tough on water.

“Spring is here, so we’re expecting bad water,” she said.

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