A University of Saskatchewan professor who has worked in Iqaluit says that any amount of fuel in drinking water is unsafe, but drinking it in the short term is not necessarily dangerous.
Iqaluit residents were told not to drink the city’s tap water on Tuesday after a fuel odor was detected at the water treatment plant, but it is still unknown whether there is fuel in the water.
Steven Siciliano, a microbiologist and toxicologist who has done research in the north, says the city did the right thing by informing its residents as soon as it found the odor.
A local state of emergency was declared for the city of about 8,000 people after more than a week of residents complaining on social media about the smell of fuel in tap water.
Siciliano says Iqaluit’s regular water tests look for bacteria, not hydrocarbons, noting that the city should not be blamed for the situation.
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Samples of water from Iqaluit have been sent to a laboratory in southern Canada for analysis and are expected to return in the next few days.
Siciliano says that the human nose is “incredibly sensitive” to hydrocarbons, which means that people can smell it even if there is a very low amount.
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He says long-term exposure to compounds found in gasoline could be “very risky,” but drinking it for a week or so probably won’t do much harm.
“It’s not like if you drink a cup of water, you are poisoned for the rest of your life,” says Siciliano.
Despite that, he says the situation is urgent and a solution must be found as soon as possible.
“If they drank it before they found out there was fuel, I don’t think they have serious cause for concern. Looking ahead, okay? Absolutely not, ”he says.
For comparison, he says that smoking one or two cigarettes a day will not cause cancer in a person, but smoking a pack a day likely will.
“It is something like that with water. Drink it every day for a week? It’s not going to give you cancer, ”he says.
“We don’t know how much fuel there is. They may not contain fuel, that’s the good news. “
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