The federal government is sending the military to Iqaluit to help provide its residents with access to safe drinking water, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said Friday.
The announcement comes 11 days after city officials told the 8,000 residents of Nunavut’s capital city that their tap water had been contaminated with fuel, and that it shouldn’t be consumed.
“We will always be there to help Canadians deal with an emergency. We have approved a request for assistance from Nunavut for (the Canadian Forces) support to provide the people of Iqaluit with access to safe drinking water,” Blair tweeted on Friday.
Testing the City of Iqaluit conducted showed there was a high concentration of fuel in a tank that supplies the city’s water. The fuel could be diesel or kerosene, officials said, but they insisted long-term health effects are not a concern.
Some residents had previously complained about the gasoline smell in their water a week before being told they shouldn’t drink it. At the time, officials told them the water was fine to drink — only to backtrack the following week.
City officials said that the investigation into the source of the tainted water revealed that there was contaminated soil or groundwater outside of the city’s treatment plant which could potentially have leaked into a part of the treatment system.
“The city has successfully isolated the tank that was affected and completed an initial inspection. While there are no obvious cracks in the tank, there are other areas of concern to look into further which will take place next week,” said Amy Elgersma, Iqaluit’s chief administrative officer in a press conference Friday.
Elgersma said that the contaminated tank would be completely drained for inspection by the end of the day, and that city has bypassed the affected clearwell so that it could continue treating water, though she warned that there was still hydrocarbons remaining in the system — specifically in that of the reservoir tanks.
The city previously said it’s still in the process of flushing the contaminated water from its system and residents need to clean their water tanks.
On top of that, services at Iqaluit’s hospital are also being affected by the city’s water crisis because tools cannot be sanitized with the contaminated water.
Nunavut’s health department says it has postponed about 30 surgeries, eight urology cases and 28 dental procedures so far.
On Thursday, reports emerged of several patients at the city’s hospital being medevaced due to the contaminated water.
In a statement to Global News Friday, a spokesperson for the territory confirmed that patients received a medevac, though that the number of people flown out were “too few to report.”
“The Department of Health does not release data sets less than five, as the population size of Nunavut is small and there is a risk of potentially identifying the individuals,” read the statement.
The transferred patients were flown to The Ottawa Hospital, the statement read, though full in hospital service is expected to resume early next week.
— with files from The Canadian Press
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