The N.W.T. government needs to do more research on cancer rates in Fort Good Hope, Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya told the legislative assembly Friday.

Norman Yakeleya said about nine people in Fort Good Hope have died from cancer recently and more people have been diagnosed. The estimated population of Fort Good Hope is 585, according to the NWT Bureau of Statistics.

"People are afraid of the water they're drinking," he said. "People are afraid of the water quality in the Mackenzie River and of eating the fish."

Another concern is the possible risk posed by old federal government buildings that contained asbestos, he said.

There has not been a formal study on cancer rates in Fort Good Hope, but Yakeleya asked for the next health minister to investigate and find answers for the community.

Concern over Mackenzie River water quality

Wilferd McNeely, chief of Fort Good Hope, said the number of people with cancer in the community is "rapidly growing" and he is worried chemicals could be flowing downstream from Norman Wells, a centre of oil and natural gas production about 150 kilometres up-river.

The community plans to get a second opinion on the quality of its drinking water, which is pumped from the Mackenzie River into a reservoir and later treated.

"They want to get an independent test done and see what we come up with," said McNeely.

The territorial government plans to install a new filtering system that will meet the Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines, said Eleanor Young, an assistant deputy minister with the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.

"We rely on the Department of Health to review water tests and give us information on the quality of the water," she said.

"Our understanding from Health is that the water quality for Fort Good Hope out of the Mackenzie River is very good. Our primary objective in this plant will be to treat the turbidity level — which is really the colour and sediment in the water — to make sure it's clear as possible for chlorination."

The new plant will continue to draw water from the Mackenzie River and if the community wants a difference source it could move the mobile facility to a nearby lake — at its own cost.