The Canadian city of Iqaluit in the country’s northern region said laboratory results confirmed the fuel had entered the water supply, officials announced Friday.
Iqaluit chief administrative officer Amy Algersma said analysis of samples from one of the city’s water tanks found “extremely high levels of various fuel components,” most likely diesel or kerosene.
Residents of Iqaluit, the capital of Canada’s northernmost region of Nunavut, reported the smell of fuel in the water over the weekend, but the source was unclear.
The city declared a state of emergency on Tuesday night, asking residents to stop using city water for drinking and cooking. The city said that even after boiling the water would not be safe.
Officials suspect that fuel may have entered the tank from soil or groundwater contamination, and are emptying the water from the tank for further investigation.
Meanwhile water will be sent around the tank, and Algarsma said that about 7,000 residents of Iqaluit will receive instructions from the city about when they should flush their pipes.
“The best evidence we have right now suggests that the risk of long-term health effects[for water drinkers]is not a concern at this time,” said Nunavut’s chief medical officer, Dr. Michael Patterson.
He said there was “no evidence” of carcinogenic chemicals officials were concerned, including benzene and toluene, both of which could be found in the fuel.
However, he cautioned that it could be in the middle or end of next week before the city lifts the no-consumption order.
Although Canada holds 20% of the world’s fresh water within its borders, 45 indigenous communities across the country currently have boil-water advisories. Nunavut’s population is 86% indigenous.
According to the Canadian Poverty Institute, Canada’s Indigenous people experience the country’s highest rate of poverty, with 25% estimated to live in poverty.
Water is a contentious issue for Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was first elected in 2015 with a promise to end all boil-water advisories within five years.
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