Iqaluit's Northmart safe, despite lack of air quality test, say health officials

Though the smell of smoke lingers in the building, the store has been inspected three times and there isn’t a risk to public health, an environmental health inspector with the territorial government explained.

Store passed inspection after reopening Saturday

On Nov. 17, just over a week after a part of the Northmart was in flames, the grocery store reopened. (David Gunn/CBC)

Despite a lack of air quality testing at Iqaluit's Northmart, officials with the Government of Nunavut say it's safe for customers to shop there.

The city's largest grocery store reopened Saturday after a fire earlier this month. Since then, Nunavut's Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission has started investigating a complaint about air quality.

Though the smell of smoke lingers in the building, the store has been inspected three times and there isn't a risk to public health, explained Greg Thibault, an environmental health inspector with the territorial government.  

"I don't think there's a health concern at Northmart at this present time," he said. "We've opened the store for public access and the sale of products, so [customers] are good to go in."

Greg Thibault, a public health inspector with the Nunavut government says despite not testing the air quality at the Northmart in Iqaluit, officials are confident the store is safe. (Nick Murray/CBC)

Government health inspectors do not routinely test the air itself as part of an environmental health inspection and they'd have to hire that work out to a contractor.

There weren't any air quality tests done before reopening the Northmart. But inspectors have been able to determine it's safe because of the ventilation systems that are in place and clean-up work that's happened since the fire, Thibault said.  

"Northmart didn't have any ventilation to start with [after the fire], power was out so they brought in heaters, had large volumes of air going through," he said. "With that we know that air quality is improving."

Most of the concerning particulates would have been located in the breezeway connecting the two buildings affected by the fire and inspectors are satisfied that it's been cleaned up "from top-to-bottom," Thibault said.

"When I say top-to-bottom, it was literally ceiling tiles being removed, to floors being done, to everything in between," Thibault said.

An inspection report from after the store reopened Saturday notes that "general cleanliness and sanitation of the food store was satisfactory."

It also noted the following:

  • The tops of shelving units were clear of dust.

  • A corroded cooler display in the meat section of the food store was covered up.

  • The floors appeared to be cleaned and washed before opening.

  • The Tim Hortons and bakery section was wiped down and clean.

  • Food on the shelving units and inside cooling units was protected from contamination.

There may still be a smokey smell on clothes and other merchandise, Thibault said, and customers should wash those products before wearing them.

"If you are buying clothes from Northmart affected by the smoke, please wash it," he said. "Just as a precautionary measure so there are no contact issues."

With files from Nick Murray