Residents in northern Canada begin flushing water tanks

IQALUIT, Nunavut — After being told there was no safe water coming from the city’s faucets for more than 60 days, residents of Iqaluit were allowed to begin flushing their water tanks again Thursday.

The city of 1,500 people kept residents of its north end off the local supply since Aug. 2, when the tests for the lead and copper in the water suggested there was danger, said Marianna Gulliver, public health manager for Iqaluit.

“We did not want them to be drinking it,” she said, referring to the faucets for washing clothes, cooking, bathing and putting your car in the garage.

To make sure residents had water, a tanker truck was taken daily from the capital’s city hall to the northern edge of town for around-the-clock flushing from three water tanks. Officials shared with residents their best guesses as to how long they could go without tap water. Gulliver herself expressed doubt that people could last that long, but she agreed the suggestion was good enough to keep Iqaluit residents safe.

The constant flushing was not enough to stabilize the levels of lead and copper in the system, Gulliver said. The city made a simple change — adding chlorine — to go below the level of the Health Department’s health advisory, which was 120 parts per billion for lead and 180 parts per billion for copper.

Thursday’s change represents a “measure of success,” said mayor Paul Sabia. The city will need to watch the levels closely in coming days, as the chlorine interacts with the lead in the water for the first time, he said.

Since 1976, there have been tests several times a year that show Iqaluit’s water is safe. The most recent test, in February, found no problems with the water.

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