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Stronger fuel smell in water possible as flushing continues in Iqaluit, say officials

·3 min read
Some of the promised 80,000 litres of bottled water from the Nunavut government arrived in Iqaluit on Thursday. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Some of the promised 80,000 litres of bottled water from the Nunavut government arrived in Iqaluit on Thursday. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada - image credit)

The flushing of water lines in Iqaluit continued Saturday, a day after city officials confirmed the presence of "exceedingly high concentrations of various fuel components" in one of its two in-ground water tanks.

"Residents may continue to smell fuel in their water until at least Monday afternoon," said a brief public service announcement from the city on Saturday afternoon.

"Some residents may even experience stronger odours than before — this is expected during the flushing process."

The city said it would deliver another update about the status of the flushing process on Monday.

Amy Elgersma, the city's chief administrative officer, said during a media conference on Friday that flushing of the water distribution system had started on Thursday and was expected to continue for another 48 hours.

She said once that process is complete, residents will receive instructions to flush their own home pipes for 20 minutes.

Water treatment plant operators discovered a concentrated odour in the city's north tank this week, after residents reported smelling fuel in the tap water for more than a week. The city told residents not to drink the tap water on Tuesday, and later declared a local state of emergency.

Officials have said the water could contain diesel or kerosene.

As of Thursday night, the contaminated tank had been isolated, Elgersma said.

Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief public health officer, said Friday there are no major health concerns for those who drank contaminated tap water.

'We need more help'

Stephanie Clark, the city's director of recreation, said the government of Nunavut has sent 80,000 litres of bottled water to the community and that another 42,000 litres were expected in the coming week.

Agnico Eagle, a mining company with mines in Nunavut, has also sent 15,000 litres in bottles that are intended for reuse, she said.

"There's a lot of people who don't have water storage, right now, in their homes," she said.

Clark said the city is expecting a shipment of household water filters from Amazon, who called and "offered to support us in whatever way we need." The city also plans to set up a distribution point for premixed baby formula that's on its way.

But, she added, "we need more help."

The community is in need of tangible water, jugs to put it in and food-safe containers, said Clark, and she's urging people who want to make donations to contact Iqaluit's water hotline at 867-979-5603.

"What I would be concerned about is people just sending us stuff.… We need to be target-specific because it's a very specific need that we have."

The city is also setting up a way to co-ordinate an influx of people in the community that want to lend a hand.

"We're actually sitting down, as a management team, figuring out just exactly where we're weak, in terms of what resources we need, and where we can deploy volunteers in a more concentrated way," she said.

Part of how people cope with a crisis, she pointed out, is by volunteering.

"We need to remember that this is a crisis, and this is weighing heavily on people's mental health," she said. "Part of how people deal with that ... is to offer service and support."

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