Written by By Taryn Miles, CNN
The water coming out of the tap is still undrinkable for many residents of Iqaluit, the Arctic outpost in the Canadian Arctic.
According to one local artist, the mayor and some local officials dismiss the concerns of his peers, portraying water concerns as non-existent.
Residents of the Inuit-settled Inuit Nation territory in Nunavut are frustrated by what they call a lack of communication and “need to know” methods from the municipality regarding water testing procedures and quality control. They fear they may be about to live in a catastrophe scenario similar to the March 2014 lead contamination in Flint, Michigan.
The city of about 55,000 residents has been under a boil water advisory since last April, after tests showed that the water was contaminated with metals. The public was originally told they could drink only through a filter, but was later allowed to flush the water out by having everyone flush their toilets.
There’s no known water quality testing facility in Iqaluit, the only Inuit-settled community in Canada’s Arctic.
Residents are now being told to boil their water before drinking it again. The City of Iqaluit was awarded a $26 million CAD (US$19.5 million) grant from the Canadian government on Monday to hire an independent water quality testing firm.
The CEO of the federal-municipal Crown corporation responsible for Iqaluit water, Charles Pickering, called the drinking water situation a national emergency and said he hoped that the results of the testing would be revealed in six to 12 weeks.
Earlier, Pickering had said that there is no “water quality testing facility in Iqaluit.”
Residents are calling for improved response procedures.
“With respect to the government, it doesn’t tell us how long it’s been since the results of the testing were received. It doesn’t tell us how the results of the testing were interpreted and what the conclusions were,” said NunatuKavut leader Raymond Lafleur.
Some residents believe there is a concerted plan to keep people in the dark about the true water quality in the city.
“Some other city’s mayors have spoken out about the water quality in their cities. When it comes to Iqaluit and the water, the people who are supposed to be the authorities, they keep quiet,” said Latitia Laumen, a local resident who works for Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, an indigenous lobby group.
“This is the first time we have experienced this level of frustration among our community and the only way the community will come together to solve this situation is if people have a role to play. I can see that if the solution came about without us being involved, then I don’t think we’d be able to come up with it,” she said.
Her comments echo the views of many of the residents who believe the problems of the water are something that has been baked into their way of life for generations.
“I’m concerned about my children’s health,” said Laumen. “I feel we need to start coming together. I believe we should know how this is going to be solved. The rest of the world is trying to know and we can learn from them, but we just aren’t getting answers to some of our questions.”
Water quality testing, as it stands, is deeply ineffective, according to Iqaluit resident Sylvie from Iqaluit. The city currently has a capped contaminated water supply because lead has not stopped falling into the water system.
“Most of us believe the water in Inuit holds lead, and I think lead is not uncommon,” she said. “It might be the equivalent of bottled water for us. It is a lot of money that we’re using to drink bottled water, we should use it to remedy the issue.”
A 2015 report showed that water in Ontario, Canada was contaminated with several metals.
A spokesperson for the Nunavut-based Iqaluit Village Council has defended the quality of water coming out of the tap.
According to her, the community’s water is safe to drink and cannot be contaminated by lead, since there is no lead in the water directly connecting into a tap.
According to Lafleur, while drinking water may be safe, drinking is not the way to make the public comfortable with the water.