Iqaluit's Airport Creek hazardous to people and sled dogs, say scientists

Scientists are raising concerns about the quality of water in a creek and river in Iqaluit. The team from York University in Toronto says action is needed to protect local residents and dog owners who use the creek.

York University researchers call for water quality warning

Scientists are raising concerns about the quality of water in Apex River and Airport Creek in Iqaluit. 

A team from York University in Toronto says action is needed to protect local residents and dog owners who use the water.

"We found bicycles and oil drums, and two days ago, we actually found a pick axe buried in the river," says Michael Bakaic, a graduate student from York University.

The research team says tests on Airport Creek show it is contaminated with oil, industrial waste, PCBs and debris.

"The Airport Creek is impaired. North of town there's 40 different types of organisms that live in the water. However, there's only about three here. Basically, everything dies south of North 40," says Andrew Scott Medeiros, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography at York University.

This research is part of a study on the local freshwater resources in the Iqaluit area.  The team has been coming to Iqaluit since 2005 working on a project called Water Security for Northern Peoples. As part of this work scientists have been sampling local streams in the area. 

Medeiros says warnings should be issued about the water quality.

"What kills insects will eventually kill higher organisms."

Airport Creek is home to many sled dogs during the summer. These dogs are kept at the edge of the creek where they have ready access to the water.

"If there is concern about the water we need to know and we need to know as soon as possible," says Louis-Philip Pothier, owner of Inukpak Outfitting, one of the many companies who keep their pack by the creek.

Researchers chronicle human impact

This is not the first time that alarms have been sound about the water quality in the area.

An incident report dated Sep. 2, 2003 by Robert Eno, a former GN environmental inspector, outlines the problem. Writing to Earle Baddaloo, then director of the Environmental Protection Service, chronicles an oil spill in Carney Creek.

The report documents a complaint made by Lynn Peplinski, a local resident and dog team owner on Aug. 28, 2003 of an oil slick in the creek. The report also notes a follow-up complaint made by another dog owner, Markus Dyck. 

"The oil slick was in fact quite noticeable, both in appearance and smell," explains Eno in his report after investigating the incident.

In the recommendations accompanying the report, Eno writes, "The Department of Health should be fully appraised of this situation with a request for their opinion on the health risks that this contamination may pose to humans and animals."

The researchers say that despite the existence of this report, and numerous attempts to share their findings with the various levels of government, to date no warnings have been issued.

"I would be severely concerned. Having a source of water that is this contaminated in a human population, chaining dogs to the stream, having kids play... it's all an extreme hazard," says Medeiros.

CBC contacted the Government of Nunavut. They say this issue is not within their jurisdiction.

We also contacted Environment Canada, they have not yet responded to our request.


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