Officials in Canada’s northernmost capital have declared a local state of emergency after finding possible evidence of gasoline in the city’s tap water.

Residents of Iqaluit, the capital of the Arctic territory of Nunavut, have been told not to drink, boil or cook with the city’s water.

In a public health advisory late on Tuesday, the Nunavut government said it was testing the city’s water for suspected petroleum hydrocarbons. Results from the testing are expected next week.

Until then, the government warned that newborns and infants should not be bathed in tap water, but Iqalummiut can still use the water for showers and cleaning.

The city’s investigation into its main drinking water source began last week after residents complained their tap water had a gasoline-like smell. Tests suggested the water was safe. But the most recent test, done in Ottawa, found microbes in the water.

Officials announced there was observed evidence of possible hydrocarbon contamination at the water treatment plant.


“In this case, we suspect that there is … some type of petroleum product in the water,” Amy Elgersma, chief administrative officer, told city council on Tuesday evening.

Schools in Iqaluit and neighbouring Apex were ordered closed on Wednesday, as well as all government buildings.

Water trucks have started pumping water from the Sylvia Grinnell River, a popular source of fresh water, and officials say they are working to bypass the tank with the suspected contamination to get the city’s water system back up and running.

In the meantime, the territory plans to fly in 80,000 litres of water over the next three days to help mitigate Iqaluit’s shortage.

In a region known for incredibly high food costs, a litre of bottled water currently sells for nearly C$9 (US$7.25), Mayor Kenny Bell told CBC North on Wednesday. A package of a dozen smaller bottles currently retails for about $24 – reflecting both the cost of shipping in supplies to a community 300km south of the Arctic circle, as well as the current demand for the product.

“It is extremely expensive, everything is extremely expensive here,” he said, adding the city was prioritizing getting water to elders. “Right now, we’re in limbo because there is not enough jugs to fill with water to give to people.”

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