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Raw sewage and toxic waste have been found leaking from garbage dumps and sewage lagoons in many Nunavut communities, according to federal inspection reports obtained by CBC News.

The water-use inspection reports show 20 of Nunavut's 25 communities, including the capital city of Iqaluit, are not complying with federal law or are operating without a current water licence.

The reports were filed in the summer and fall of 2010.

In some of communities, federal inspectors raised serious environmental and human health concerns related to municipal dumps and lagoons.

Under federal law, a municipality needs a water licence to provide basic services such as water, sewage and garbage management.

In July, an inspector from the Indian and Northern Affairs Department sampled a stream near Cambridge Bay in western Nunavut when he observed the water was green and smelled like sewage.

"Currently, a health risk exists to the community, as during sampling, char were noted feeding in the outfall stream adjacent to the community," the inspector wrote.

'Disrespect for the environment'

In the central Nunavut community of Baker Lake, an inspector who took samples in August noted toxic waste and sewage flowing into lakes and streams that feed into the community's drinking-water reservoir.

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University of British Columbia researcher Frank Tester took photographs of leaking car batteries and other toxic waste at the landfill in Baker Lake, Nunavut, in August. ((Submitted by Frank Tester))

"An obvious sheen was noted in the run-off from both lakes," wrote the inspector in that case. "It is suspected that the sheen is from hydrocarbons leaching into the effluent stream from the hazardous materials and waste-oil storage adjacent to the lagoon."

In the Baker Lake case, the Nunavut and municipal governments have let the situation get so out of control that the inspector recommended "formal enforcement action up to and including legal proceedings" against both governments.

"Such obvious disregard for authority and disrespect for the environment are of great concern to the inspector," the report says.

Similar concerns about the Baker Lake landfill were raised by Frank Tester, a University of British Columbia researcher who was visiting the community around the same time as the inspection.

Tester told CBC News in September that he saw open and overflowing containers marked as hazardous waste, as well as acid leaking from broken discarded batteries.

The Nunavut government has promised to study the territory's waste management issues and develop a long-term strategy for managing municipal landfills.

Neither the Nunavut government nor the federal Indian and Northern Affairs Department was available for comment on Monday. Officials in many of the communities mentioned in the inspection reports declined to comment.

Federal water use inspection reports were not released for five Nunavut communities: Rankin Inlet, Whale Cove, Qikiqtarjuaq, Sanikiluaq and Taloyoak.

Health risks

In a report from Hall Beach, an inspector noted in July that the Nunavut and municipal government had not done any cleanup since 13 million litres of raw sewage spilled from a leaking sewage lagoon cell in 2008.

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A container marked 'hazardous waste' was found at the Baker Lake landfill. Tester said some of those containers were 'wide open and overflowing.' ((Submitted by Frank Tester))

In another community, Repulse Bay, an inspection report from September said officials have failed to address a "serious health risk" at the local dump.

"The municipal landfill has not been burned or buried in over three years," the inspection report said. "Municipal wastes have been piling up. This is a serious health risk and wildlife attractant."

Both Hall Beach and Repulse Bay had expired water licences at the time the inspection reports were filed.

In the territorial capital of Iqaluit, where a fire at the city's landfill lasted more than a month this past fall, a federal inspection report filed in July said the dump was nearing capacity and has "mounds of shredded waste" over 25 metres high.

"Options and alternatives to this process must be included within the application for renewal process and in conjunction with the Government of Nunavut's solid waste management study currently underway," the report said.