Gas smell in water remained a mystery for days: Iqaluit mayor

City officials searched but could not find the source of a fuel odour reported in Iqaluit’s water supply for more than a week, despite taking several samples and inspecting the city’s water treatment plant, says Mayor Kenny Bell.

City of Iqaluit staff first started hearing complaints on Oct. 2. Staff looked at the regular daily, weekly and monthly tests and the results were clean and met national standards, Bell said.

But the complaints kept coming.

In response, staff collected six samples from various people’s homes across the city and they all came back clean, Bell said. At some of the homes, people said they smelled an odour, but their neighbours reported their own water smelled clean.

“It was so sporadic,” Bell said of the reports.

Staff continued to monitor and test the water and check the water treatment facility located near Lake Geraldine, he said.

When asked why the city didn’t issue water advisory after the initial complaints, Bell answered that the city and Nunavut government agreed it wasn’t necessary.

“Ultimately, our tests were passing,” he said, adding chlorine and iron reacting to each other can cause fuel-like odours in water.

Bell said the city even checked in with the hospital after hearing reports on social media that people were feeling ill after drinking water.

“There was no uptake of stomach sicknesses, no chemical burns,” he said. “So, what do you do?”

Everything changed on Tuesday, three hours after the city released a second statement that all city water met national standards. That’s when the Nunavut government called Bell into an emergency meeting.

There, he was told public works staff had opened a sealed access vault that contains chemicals that the water mixes with to filter it before it is stored in holding tanks.
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