Residents of Iqaluit, the capital of the Arctic territory of Nunavut, have been warned not to drink, boil or cook with the city’s water.
“Due to the possibility of petroleum hydrocarbons at the Iqaluit water treatment plant, the Department of Health is advising Iqalummiut not to consume tap water for drinking or cooking, until further notice,” the territory’s government wrote in a public health advisory published Tuesday.
— Government of Nunavut (@GOVofNUNAVUT)
An investigation into the city’s water supply began late last week, when residents complained that their tap water smelled like gasoline, The Guardian reported. At first, tests suggested the water was safe. But a more recent test conducted in Ottawa turned up evidence of microbes in the water.
In a city council meeting Tuesday evening, chief administrative officer Amy Elgersma also said that staff had located “concentrated odors” in the city’s water treatment plant, CBC News reported.
“We suspect there is some type of petroleum product that has entered the water system,” Elgersma said at the meeting.
Samples from the treatment plant have been sent in for testing, and results should be due in five business days.
The health advisory said that the city’s tap water could be used for laundry, cleaning and showers. However, pregnant women, newborns and infants should not bathe in the water, and it should not be added to infant formulae.
Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell further warned that all residents were impacted, no matter how they received their water.
“It’s everything. Any treated water,” Bell told Nunatsiaq News.
This means the city’s more than 7,000 residents will all need alternative water sources, CBC News noted.
This is occurring in a remote area where food and bottled water costs are extremely high, The Guardian reported. A liter bottle of water costs around $7.25 and a pack of a dozen smaller bottles costs $24.
“It is extremely expensive, everything is extremely expensive here,” Bell told CBC North, as The Guardian reported. “Right now, we’re in limbo because there is not enough jugs to fill with water to give to people.”
The city had set up two water distribution points Tuesday with water from the Sylvia Grinnell River, Nunatsiaq News reported. However, residents are required to bring their own jugs.
The territory is also planning to fly in 80,000 liters (approximately 21,133.8 liquid gallons) of water over the next three days, and to bypass the potentially contaminated tank to restore the city’s normal water supply, The Guardian reported.
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