Some 20 Canadian Armed Forces members are in Iqaluit to set up reverse osmosis water purification to help residents access clean water. Photo credit: Canadian Armed Forces

Laboratory tests confirmed that the presence of hydrocarbons at the City of Iqaluit’s water treatment plant was not likely high enough to cause harm to those who drank it, Nunavut’s Department of Health announced.

Of the six sites tested at an Ontario-based lab, unsafe levels were discovered in the holding tanks for the North Clear Well at the water treatment plant. However, tested water in the treated reservoir just prior to water delivery showed levels below what would cause health risks if consumed, Nunavut’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, confirmed.

The in-ground tank containing the high concentrations of contaminants has been isolated, pumped for remediation, and undergone cleaning.

“The contamination is presenting as hydrophobic and tends to remain on the surface which means it can be removed directly from those tanks using a vacuum system, preventing the contamination from entering the city’s distribution system,” city officials announced in a statement.

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Officials speculated that the contamination may have come from the soil and groundwater outside of the water treatment plant and leached into the affected tank.

The Nunavut government declared a state of emergency prior to the lab findings as a precautionary measure and to activate specific resources to support efforts for public health and infrastructure in Iqaluit, announced Minister of Community and Government Services, Jeannie Ehaloak.

The Department of Health issued a statement noting that health impacts from consuming the water last week were “unlikely”, and that the level of hydrocarbons identified in the water “cannot be absorbed through skin.”

Until further notice, the population of nearly 8,000 is being asked not to consume tap water for drinking or cooking, including boiled water or filtered water through commercially sold filters or reverse osmosis systems.

In the meantime, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan tweeted that the military will be “on the ground in Iqaluit to help produce drinking water for the people of Iqaluit.”

Services are being arranged for residents to clean and flush their pipes and water tanks, local officials said. Additionally, Phase 2 of an environmental site assessment — the subsurface investigation — has begun.

Iqaluit has also installed a water monitoring station in response to the contamination, allowing the city to obtain real-time information on hydrocarbon levels.

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