Iqaluit investigating after 'influx of concerns' that the city's water smells like fuel again

The city is asking residents to take aerators off their taps and run the water on cold for 20 minutes as soon as possible, before 6 p.m. ET this evening.

City tells residents to take aerators off their taps, run water on cold for 20 minutes before 6 p.m.

Many Iqaluit residents visited the Sylvia Grinnell River on Friday afternoon to collect water from the river after fuel smells were reported in the city's water supply again. It was -30 C in Iqaluit on Friday with wind chill of -45 C. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

The City of Iqaluit says it believes there's still some fuel that needs to be flushed out of its water supply.

The city issued a public service announcement Friday after receiving "an influx of concerns from the public" starting Thursday evening about its drinking water smelling of fuel.

In an email, city spokesperson Stephanie Clark confirmed the city has received more than 20 complaints since Thursday evening.

The city is asking residents to take aerators off their taps and run the water on cold for 20 minutes as soon as possible.

"We're obviously checking everything and making sure that it's not a new source or continuation of the old source," Iqaluit Mayor Kenny Bell told CBC News. 

He said that the monitoring units that have been installed to detect hydrocarbons in the water since the fuel contamination in October haven't detected levels that were unsafe.

"But at the same time, I mean, people need to feel safe," he said. "This is crazy, and obviously we need a new treatment centre."

Iqaluit asked feds for $184M

He said the city's been working hard and has asked the federal government for $184 million to build a new water treatment plant.

"We're waiting on those things to happen to be announced, or hopefully, [be] approved and announced."

In a statement, Nunavut's NDP MP, Lori Idlout, agreed that Iqaluit residents deserve to get an answer about the funding.

"It is clear that the Liberal government needs to make a major investment to address the aging infrastructure which is having a significant negative impact on the health and wellbeing of residents," she said.

In its public service announcement, the city said it has brought in engineers and other experts to "immediately investigate and assist in responding to this issue."

"At this time, it is believed that potential remaining hydrocarbons may have entered the water supply and needs to be flushed out of the distribution system," the city wrote.

"The city is proactively opening distribution valves to promote the local flushing of water."

It has been five weeks since Nunavut health officials lifted a do-not-consume order for Iqaluit's water

Officials originally told residents not to drink the tap water on Oct. 12 after complaints flooded that it smelled of fuel.

Iqaluit's 8,000 residents spent two months drinking water from the Sylvia Grinnell River or bottled water flown in by the city instead of tap water.

On Friday, the road to the river was plowed and some residents returned to gather water.

Nunavut's Department of Health issued a reminder Friday afternoon for residents to boil water that they collect from the river for a full minute if they plan to drink it or use it for cooking, brushing teeth, washing fruits and vegetables, preparing infant formulas or making juice or ice cubes.

'Trace amount' of hydrocarbons

The city said it hasn't measured any overly high levels of petroleum hydrocarbons at its water treatment plant, but it continues to screen for hydrocarbons. The announcement also said data from this week shows small amounts of hydrocarbons.

"An initial review of data from the real-time monitoring station indicates a trace amount of hydrocarbons entered the distribution system on Monday and Wednesday of this week," it stated.

Bell said the data showed about 50 micrograms of hydrocarbons per litre of water, below the 75 micrograms required to notify officials, and well below the Canadian safety limit of 390 micrograms.

"[The monitors] didn't hit the low limit alarm, so we weren't notified," said Bell.

The city has also increased its weekly laboratory sampling efforts.

Residents who want to report concerns about fuel odours are asked to call the water quality hotline at 867-979-5603.

With files from Jackie McKay