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Chemical and microbial characteristics of municipal drinking water supply systems in the Canadian Arctic

Abstract

Drinking water in the vast Arctic Canadian territory of Nunavut is sourced from surface water lakes or rivers and transferred to man-made or natural reservoirs. The raw water is at a minimum treated by chlorination and distributed to customers either by trucks delivering to a water storage tank inside buildings or through a piped distribution system. The objective of this study was to characterize the chemical and microbial drinking water quality from source to tap in three hamlets (Coral Harbour, Pond Inlet and Pangnirtung—each has a population of <2000) on trucked service, and in Iqaluit (population ~6700), which uses a combination of trucked and piped water conveyance. Generally, the source and drinking water was of satisfactory microbial quality, containing Escherichia coli levels of <1 MPN/100 mL with a few exceptions, and selected pathogenic bacteria and parasites were below detection limits using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) methods. Tap water in households receiving trucked water contained less than the recommended 0.2 mg/L of free chlorine, while piped drinking water in Iqaluit complied with Health Canada guidelines for residual chlorine (i.e. >0.2 mg/L free chlorine). Some buildings in the four communities contained manganese (Mn), copper (Cu), iron (Fe) and/or lead (Pb) concentrations above Health Canada guideline values for the aesthetic (Mn, Cu and Fe) and health (Pb) objectives. Corrosion of components of the drinking water distribution system (household storage tanks, premise plumbing) could be contributing to Pb, Cu and Fe levels, as the source water in three of the four communities had low alkalinity. The results point to the need for robust disinfection, which may include secondary disinfection or point-of-use disinfection, to prevent microbial risks in drinking water tanks in buildings and ultimately at the tap.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the Hamlets of Coral Harbour, Pangnirtung, Pond Inlet and the City of Iqaluit for assistance with this research. The staff at Nunavut Research Institute (Iqaluit) is gratefully acknowledged for their continued support. Also, we appreciate the outstanding contributions of our community research assistants: Allan Nakoolak (Coral Harbour), Abe Kublu (Pond Inlet), David Mike (Pangnirtung), Tommy Nagligniq (Iqaluit) and Ooloota Nowdlak (Iqaluit), without whom we could not have completed the sampling of building tap water. This work was supported by grants from the Nunavut General Monitoring Plan and the Government of Nunavut. The funders were not involved in the work.

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Correspondence to Lisbeth Truelstrup Hansen.

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Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

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Daley, K., Truelstrup Hansen, L., Jamieson, R.C. et al. Chemical and microbial characteristics of municipal drinking water supply systems in the Canadian Arctic. Environ Sci Pollut Res 25, 32926–32937 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-017-9423-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-017-9423-5

Keywords

  • Drinking water
  • Chlorination
  • Arctic communities
  • Surface water
  • Escherichia coli
  • Microbial pathogens
  • Metals
  • Lead