“Unbearable” diesel smell was reported at the Iqaluit water plant days before the advisory

Health workers had to leave the facility for fresh air during the October 8 inspection

An ‘unbearable’ diesel smell at the Iqaluit water treatment plant was reported to decision makers at the Department of Health several days before people were publicly warned to stop drinking city water , due to fuel contamination.

A PID device tests the air quality on a container of water taken from a tank at the Iqaluit water treatment plant on October 8. (Photo taken from Ministry of Health emails)

Health Ministry environmental officer Wilfred Ntiamoah was at the plant on October 8. His emails are included in materials obtained by Nunatsiaq News under the Nunavut Freedom of Information Act.

Since October 2, the public has complained about a smell of fuel in the city’s tap water, and Ntiamoah said he was investigating a “diesel fumes or odor problem” in the city. ‘factory itself.

He remarked in an email that he wanted to know why the doors of the factory were wide open.

“Is it to dispel the accumulated diesel odors / vapors,” he asked.

He brought with him an air monitoring tool called a photoionization detector (PID) to measure the levels of dangerous fumes in the plant. He wrote that the smell was so bad in some areas of the facility that he had to leave the building to get some fresh air.

“It is interesting that the levels dropped significantly when the test was performed outside of [the] water plant, ”he wrote in an email, in which he concluded that the city should consult an environmental consultant to determine whether the smell from the plant was related to the odors reported in the water.

A PID measures vapors, such as diesel fuel or gasoline, in the air.

GN Environmental Health Specialist Michele LeBlanc-Havard described the PID in an email as a “quick and dirty” test that shows “where to look closer”.

“If it doesn’t show any volatiles, it’s a safe bet that the more detailed test won’t show anything,” she wrote on Oct. 7.

The tests all showed volatile substances in the air inside the water plant. Ntiamoah called some of his peak testing levels, which stood at 15.9 parts per million, “significant.”

He included photos of his PID at work throughout the plant. One photo shows a member of staff taking a measurement from a container filled with water from what is labeled as “Tank # 1 with an oily surface.”

The Iqalummiut have been advised not to consume the city’s treated water since October 12. That day, Mayor Kenny Bell told Nunatsiaq News that authorities decided to warn people after workers noticed a “strong smell of gas” at the factory.

The city’s administrative director, Amy Elgersma, who is also the city’s acting director of public works, was not available to be interviewed for this story.

Nunatsiaq News asked city spokesperson Aleksey Cameron when city workers started reporting a strong smell of diesel at the water treatment plant. Cameron said it would be incorrect to say that city staff have previously reported such a smell.

“On October 12, city staff reported smelling a smell of Varsol paint thinner which led to the discovery (sic) of concentrated contaminants in the North Clear well,” she said.

Ultimately, it’s up to the territory’s chief public health officer to issue water advisories. Dr Michael Patterson has defended the 10-day lag in warning people about water, saying it would not have been appropriate to issue a do not consume water advisory as a precaution. .

Nunatsiaq News has contacted the Department of Health to request interviews with Patterson and Ntiamoah. Spokesmen Danarae Sommerville and Chris Puglia said neither were available for an interview.

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