Iqaluit community bands together as drinking water remains contaminated by fuel

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When employees at Iqaluit’s Kazukturvik Community Food Center heard the news last week that the water in the city’s distribution pipes was not safe to drink due to fuel contamination, they knew some people weren’t able to obtain the precious liquid themselves. Will be

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The city established two distribution sites where people could fill jugs with potable water, and many were able to drive up to the nearby Sylvia Grinnell River and gather themselves to boil the drink.

But Rachel Blass, executive director of the Food Center, which runs food service and other community programs, said many people do not have vehicles. Others, she said, have kids or do multiple jobs and don’t have time to get water.

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“We know we have a lot of community members who are experiencing homelessness, or don’t have access to transportation, or have disabilities or mobility issues, people who are older, who have kids in the home, the list goes on. is,” Blass said in a phone interview on Sunday.

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8,000 residents of the Nunavut capital were told Tuesday not to drink tap water as complaints began to flood in that it smelled of fuel.

City officials later said tests showed that the tank supplying the water contained high concentrations of various fuel components. The city has isolated and bypassed the tank, and once it is emptied and flushed, officials will investigate where the contaminants came from.

According to the city, tap water can still be used for bathing, showering, washing clothes and washing dishes.

Blass said his group first posted a message on Facebook asking if anyone needed help getting water. They immediately received calls and emails, and first of all their employees and members of their pre-employment training program met the need. He then applied for and received emergency funding from the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and Community Food Center Canada to hire a full-time driver.

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That driver now fills jugs of water at city distribution points, or goes to the river himself if there is a very long line, and brings them to homes in a cargo van. Delivery is also done in other community groups such as local women’s shelters.

The water that is needed is not just for drinking. The city is also advising people not to cook or clean food with tap water.

“We have a lot of community members who have a lot of people in their homes — a lot of kids in their homes — and they need a lot of water,” Blass said.

Another challenge, she said, was that the pots of water in the local shops ran out immediately. Blass said those who needed a water supply could not afford the jaggery anyway. So from Monday, he said they would deliver water to the big groves of Rubbermaid.

The Nunavut government is also flying in shipments of potable water. Agnico Eagle Mines also delivered about 15,000 liters of water to Iqaluit on Friday and Saturday.

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Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, said last week that there is no health risk for Iqaluit residents drinking contaminated tap water, and people could start drinking it again as early as the middle of this week. More on test results.

Patterson said the contamination did not occur naturally, and may have resulted from an old oil spill that has been left with thawing permafrost.

The city said its water-engineering consultants suspect contaminants outside the plant, which are located in soil or groundwater, may have entered the tank from outside.

Blass noted that water conditions in Iqaluit are not uncommon in many Canadian Indigenous communities, where boil-water advice is the norm. He said climate change and the city’s growing population are other threats to water security.

Iqaluit is very fortunate to be so close to the Sylvia Grinnell River, she said.

“If we didn’t have access to that clean water source, I don’t know what the situation would have been.”

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