Federal officials say a three-week-old fire at the Iqaluit dump is not causing an air-quality emergency in the Nunavut capital, but they acknowledge that better equipment is needed to monitor the kind of contaminants that come from burning garbage.
The fire, which is being left to burn itself out, closed schools a day or two last week in the city of about 7,000 and prompted health warnings.
Air quality officials from Environment Canada and Health Canada arrived in Iqaluit last weekend, using hand-held devices to measure carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide and other chemicals and particulates.
Preliminary tests indicate the level of particles in the air isn't high enough to trigger an emergency response.
Georges Long, a senior officer with Environment Canada's Preparedness and Response division, spent the weekend chasing the landfill's plume of smoke.
He says contamination is concentrated near the dump.
“Of course, yes, at the landfill we did get some readings — quite a bit of readings — because that was the source of the problem. But as we moved away from the landfill, it was consistent as we moved away that these levels dropped significantly.”
Long declined to state his early findings, but said that at 60 to 70 metres away from the dump, air contamination was minimal.
New equipment that can provide long-term monitoring of substances such as hydrocarbons is expected to arrive in Iqaluit by the end of the week.
Eight people have gone to hospital over smoke concerns, although no one had to be admitted.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Maureen Baikie says so far, no one has been seriously ill.
“I’m sure everyone is concerned about cancer and cardiac disease,” she says. “I believe that it’s early to tell, but I believe from what I’ve read that the risk is very low.”
This morning, Nunavut’s health department issued another of its advisories, advising elders, children and people with health issues to avoid being outside as the winds are predicted to move the smoke towards town later today.