When the Iqaluit NorthMart reopened its doors to shoppers Saturday, Nov. 17 after a fire decimated its neighbouring warehouse, Iqalungmiut were shocked by the overpowering smell of smoke in the store and sooty residue evident on the general merchandise, which was on sale at 50 per cent off.

photo courtesy Edith Baragar
The thick billowing smoke from the Nov. 8 NorthMart warehouse fire affected the main retail store, raising questions from employees and shoppers about potential health hazards after the store reopened Nov. 17.

Iqalungmiut took to social media to complain about headaches and being unable to remain on the premises.

On Monday, Dept. of Health inspectors, Qikiqtaaluk Environmental, Workers Safety and Compensation Commission (WSCC) investigators and the Department of Environment visited the store.

This was the fourth visit by Health officials, and inspectors noted air scrubbers had been turned off over the weekend, which may have worsened the odour.

Air scrubbers are portable filtration systems that remove particles, gases, and chemicals from the air.

“And signs were not posted (advising) customers to wash items before use. NorthMart addressed these items immediately,” stated environmental health officer Greg Thibault by email.

In a letter to NorthMart owner North West Company after the first inspection Nov. 9,  Thibault indicated the retail area of the store was affected by smoke only.

“Water has spilled over to the retail area but has only affected the floor. Product on the shelves was not affected by water,” he stated.

Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo
Air scrubbers, which were turned off over the weekend, now filter the air at NorthMart, post-fire.

The department also contracted Qikiqtaaluk Environmental to perform air quality testing.

“Air quality results indicate particulate levels were acceptable. Health and other agencies will continue to address any potential health concerns related to the fire.”

However, WSCC confirmed Tuesday a NorthMart employee reported an unsafe work environment.

“A WSCC safety officer followed up at the worksite with regards to the report, as well as performed a general inspection of the worksite on November 19th. An inspection report was issued to the employer,” stated acting manager of communication for WSCC Sarah McLeod by email.

But McLeod noted the commission does not make the results of investigations available to the public.

“The employer must post a copy of the inspection in a location available for the workers to review,” she stated.

McLeod also stated the commission can issue a stop-work order if there is an imminent or immediate danger to life or health.

“If there are non-compliances to the Safety Act or Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, directions are issued by a safety officer to the employer as part of the inspection report with recommendations for corrective action. Safety officers collaborate with workers and employer on identifying ways to ensure compliance and strengthen the IRS (internal responsibility system),” McLeod stated.

That system, according to the commission, means everyone shares the responsibility for working together to identify and control situations (hazards) that could cause harm, including employers, owners, managers, supervisors, workers and the Occupational Health and Safety Committee.

Thibault stated that the Dept. of Health “continues to assess and address any potential health concerns related to the fire at NorthMart.”

He described previous inspections, including the first on Nov. 9, the day after the fire.

“During the initial inspection conducted by environmental health officers, direction on cleaning, ventilation, cooling equipment replacement and product disposal was provided. Potentially smoke-exposed foods, medicines or medical supplies were disposed,” stated Thibault.

“At the second inspection, prior to opening, compliance with recommendations was noted. NorthMart indicated that air scrubbers would be used to reduce smoke odour. Additional points to address before opening included some repairs, cleaning the floors and ventilation systems for each cooler, and posting signage to recommend washing discounted clothing and household items. ”

Thibault states officials conducted a third inspection Saturday morning.

“At which point items from the second inspection had been addressed,” he stated.

Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo
Clean-up is proceeding after fire destroyed the NorthMart warehouse, which firefighters demolished to ensure the blaze did not spread to the main retail store. 

The GN’s Department of Environment is also on the scene.

“The Department of Environment is aware of the recent fire at the Iqaluit NorthMart on Nov. 8, 2018. The department’s environmental protection officers are working with the responsible party on ensuring that any spill of contaminants is contained and that site remediation efforts are carried out,” stated acting manager of communications, education and outreach Peter Polanowski by email.

“As this is an ongoing investigation the department will not be releasing any additional information.”

Senior officials with the North West Company, which owns NorthMart, did not respond to emails and phone calls.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *