Frequently Asked Questions

Why did my water smell like fuel?

Fuel is able to be smelled in even very small and highly diluted concentrations. Our noses often act as our first line of defense to warn us of contamination well before it is at dangerous levels. Much the same way you can sometimes smell trace amounts of garbage in an area or mold in your fridge, our sense of smell is a way to warn us that something may be wrong.

Taste is the another line of defense the body uses to protect us from consuming things that are bad for us. Fuel can be smelled and tasted while still at levels well below longterm concern to health. Having an emergency back up supply of water is an important precaution to take to put your mind at ease if your water smells/tastes odd.

What is the presumed cause of the fuel contamination in the water treatment plant?

The investigation found an old underground fuel tank that was buried nearby the water treatment plant as the cause of the contamination. At an unknown point of time, the fuel leaked into an area (known as the void) beneath the surge tank of the water treatment plant. Over time, ground water (naturally occurring) mixed with the fuel and rose until the bottom of the surge tank was submerged with the contaminated water.  The surge tank is the only below ground tank that made contact with the contaminated water.

Upon making contact with the contaminated water, volatile petroleum hydrocarbon compounds wicked through the natural pores of the concrete on the bottom of the surge tank and vapourized within the surge tank. As a matter of explanation, the movement of petroleum hydrocarbon compounds moved from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration through a porous barrier. There is no evidence of a crack of the below ground tanks (including the North Clearwell).

The vapour pressure in the surge tank increased as more vapourized petroleum hydrocarbons wicked through the porous concrete. The petroleum vapour moved to the interconnected tanks, such as the unused tank connected above by an empty pipe.

When the petroleum vapour pressure in the interconnected tanks became sufficiently high, the petroleum hydrocarbons infiltrated the raw water storage tank by petroleum vapour intrusion (definition below). From the raw water storage tank, the contaminated water was transported through the water treatment plant and accumulated within the North Clearwell.

What is the timeline for water consumption to be able to return to normal?

As of December 10th, 2021, the Do Not Consume Order instituted by the Government of Nunavut on October 12th, 2021 has been lifted. 

 

 

What is being done to prevent contamination from occurring again?

The evidence all suggested the cause of this contamination was a buried historic fuel tank. The site near the Water Treatment Plant has been explored for any other potential causes of contamination. None were found, although there was a small spill (surface level) found nearby that was remedied out of an abundance of caution.

Further, the City has installed additional monitoring equipment known as an S:CANN that will give us real time monitoring. This system is standard in other municipalities that choose to monitor for hydrocarbons. Iqalummiut can rest assured that this situation has been investigated, the cause was identified, the issue remediated and mitigated and testing continues. There are methods in place to ensure this will not happen again.

What are the current levels of petroleum hydrocarbons in the City’s water supply?

There are currently undetectable levels of petroleum hydrocarbons in the water supply.

The City has a comprehensive sampling and monitoring program that includes real-time monitoring, and lab tested results that are all noting non-detect.

Why does the Purified River Water have a chlorine taste?

You may smell chlorine in water picked up from the Purified River Water distribution. This is a result of the treatment required to the water. You can dispel the odour by leaving the cap off your water jug before consuming.

A GN inspector noted smelling fuel on October 10. Was this related to the current issue?

While they sound similar, the observations reported in the media from a GN Inspector are unrelated to petroleum hydrocarbon issue. These were observations by a GN Public Health officer who was onsite on October 8. He visited the water treatment plant for a general overview as he was unfamiliar with the plant and took some tests. While he was on site he noted a smell of diesel. City staff had reported to him that there was a fuel leak on the day tank - which had been isolated and a boiler mechanic was working on the site most of the day. This would contribute to the odour he reported observing. The repairs were completed on October 12 and the diesel smell dissipated at that point.

Are we required to conserve water?

The need to be waterwise has not diminished as a result of this crisis. It is important to use water wisely in our daily activities. The water situation these past few weeks is a good reminder to be water wise and have a plan in the event of an emergency.

How can I be prepared for future events that may impact water for residents?

Much like you’d prepare for a blizzard by keeping a supply of food in your house, you should have enough water to support your household for 72 hours in the event of an emergency. This includes clean drinking water and water that can be used for cleaning as needed.

What can I do as a resident to help ensure our water supply stays pristine?

Our activities impact the water. Residents are encouraged to refrain from skidooing on Lake Geraldine and undertaking activities that could release contaminants into the environment near our water supply and water treatment plant.

Is the water safe to drink?

The City’s drinking water meets or is better than all territorial requirements and the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. Health Canada has established the Guidelines, and the Maximum Acceptable Concentrations or Drinking Water Screening Values established within those Guidelines, so that the consumption of drinking water meeting those limits is protective of human health. Extensive sampling and analysis of the City of Iqaluit’s water continues to return results that meet or are better than these guidelines. However, if there are concerns or if you take the necessary flushing measures and still smell fuel, please call the hotline and report it.

How do I know the City will take any complaints seriously and respond quickly?

The City has implemented improved Consumer Water Quality Inquiry procedures, with a particular focus on the possibility of aesthetic complaints regarding petroleum hydrocarbon smells. An important aspect of these revised procedures is escalation of multiple complaints within 24 hours or the detection of any measurable amount of petroleum fractions with Public Health. These procedures have been put in place to protect the quality of the City’s drinking water.

Why might there still small fractions in the water?

The City has taken many steps to remove the likelihood of future detection of petroleum hydrocarbons. These steps include the removal of the original source of contaminant, additional hydrocarbon-related water quality monitoring at the WTP, the flushing of the entire water distribution system, asking residents and businesses to flush their internal plumbing and the implenentatoin of improved customer inquiry procedures. However, the possibility exists that some people may detect petroleum hydrocarbon odours from time to time. If you do flush your internal plumbing as a first step. If odours persist after internal flushing of your plumbing, call the City’s Water Quality Hotline at (867) 979-5603.

How long can we expect to smell fuel in the water?

The City does not expect residents to smell fuel in their drinking water. The City has taken a comprehensive approach to addressing this problem and removing the risk of recurrence. The City has enhanced its procedures to ensure that if a complaint is received, City staff respond quickly and effectively. We will also bring multiple complaints or any complaints with a measurable concentration to the attention of Public Health immediately.

What should I do if I smell fuel in my water?

Should residents experience any unusual odor and/or taste in the drinking water, such as fuel, the City encourages residents to follow the below steps first, prior to calling the City:

1.    If the concern is with odours, take the water into another room of your house and re-test for odours. If the odour remains;

2.    Remove the aerator from the faucet,

3.    Run the water from the tap for 10 minutes, with the aerator removed.

4.    Clean the removed aerator, rinsing it in a solution of chlorine bleach, if available.

5.    Take another sample of water and test for odours,

6.    Reinstall aerator.

Should the odour and/or taste persist after following the above steps, the City requests that residents alert the City of Iqaluit Water Hotline directly, as quickly as possible, so that the City can initiate the appropriate steps to investigate the issue. You can reach the hotline at (979-5603).

How can it be non-detect if I smell petroleum hydrocarbons?

The human sense of smell detects the presence of petroleum hydrocarbons at a much lower concentrations than the human sense of taste and well before any technology capable of testing for petroleum hydrocarbons and well before any significant levels that would cause impacts to health. This means that the human sense of smell can detect the presence of petroleum hydrocarbons at a much lower concentration than what Health Canada deems as acceptable in the Canadian Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality. 

Since October 23rd, 2021, all samples undertaken by the City for petroleum hydrocarbons have returned resutls at or below detection levels of concentration. As such, the drinking water from the Water Treatment Plant continues to meet or be better than the Canadian Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality and territorial requirements.

However, if there are concerns or if you take the necessary flushing measures and still smell fuel, please call the hotline and report it.