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Iqalummiut worried about tap water

Karen Mackenzie
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 30, 2008

IQALUIT - A group of Iqaluit residents is concerned that the local tap water is making them sick.

A committee of about 20 people believe that an elevated concentration of minerals in the water is causing head and stomach aches and an occasional "buzz," and have ordered tests to prove it.

"I arrived three months ago, and as soon as I arrived I began having headaches and stomach-aches," said Cynthia Guillemette. "At first I just thought it was stress from the move, but three weeks later I started filtering my water, and as soon as I filtered it I was fine.

"There are 20 on the committee and five of us can't drink the water at home or work because it would give us a buzz."

The group sent a sample of tap water to a lab in Quebec, where Guillemette is originally from.

"They did a metal test and found it has four to seven times the amount of copper than what is normally found in Quebec," she said.

According to the $85 lab test, which was performed by Labaratoires d'Analyses S.M. Inc., the copper is elevated but still under the level deemed safe by Canadian standards.

But Guillemette said she is worried that the amount is concentrated when, for instance, water is boiled and left in a kettle.

"We would just like people to know that they really have to filter their water, and dump the whole thing out after using water from a kettle," she said.

The Government of Nunavut tests tap water on a weekly basis for bacteriological contaminants, not minerals, according to Nunavut Chief Medical Officer Isaac Sobol.

Sobol said the Department of Health and Social Services has not received any complaints about the quality of water, but would follow up if it were deemed to be a concern.

"One would first expect to see adverse effects in those that are most vulnerable - infants, those with chronic illness and elders, for instance. But I haven't seen anything come through with respect to our water.

"If they think they are ill for whatever reason, go see a doctor or a nurse. Then we could act on it," he said.

The Department of Indian and Northern Affairs tests Iqaluit's source water at Lake Geraldine on an annual basis. When last tested in July 2007, samples showed copper concentration below the standard guidelines set by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, according to spokesperson Laura Hepditch.