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Thick Black Liquid Is Coming Out of This Nova Scotia First Nation’s Water Taps

Not yet under boil water advisory, Potlotek First Nation chiefs are advising residents not to drink, cook or wash dishes with it.

Nova Scotia's Eskasoni Nation is delivering truckloads of water to Potlotek reserve. Still from 'Waterless Communities: Shoal Lake 40.'

A group of government officials and engineers will be in Potlotek First Nation on Tuesday to deal with an ongoing water crisis—thick, black liquid coming out of taps that residents in the tiny Cape Breton community suspect is making them sick.

"I showered with dirt or metal or rust or whatever it was this morning," Patricia Paul, who joined about 40 other people in protest at the reserve's community centre on Tuesday told CBC. She was in the middle of a shower when her water changed colour. "I still have shampoo in my hair."


"It's black," community member Bernadette Marie Marshall told VICE News, explaining that for about 20 years, tap water in Potlotek, with an on-reserve population of about 550 people, has been changing colours several times a year for two or three weeks at a time. "Some parts are real dark brown."

"We have had this problem for years, but it's continuously getting worse," she said, adding that she suspects the water is causing health issues among residents, like stomach problems and rashes.

According to Health Canada, the water, which contains high levels of manganese and iron, isn't unsafe, but the minerals do contribute to the discolouration and make it "aesthetically unsuitable for drinking." It can still be used for bathing, showering, and flushing toilets though.

While there's no boil water advisory on the reserve, residents like Paul say the discoloured, foul-smelling liquid is unfit for consumption. Paul has been sponge-bathing her children and using bottled water to brush their teeth.

On Wednesday, Potlotek's chief and council sent out a memo advising residents not to drink, cook, wash the dishes or ingest the water in any way.

At a meeting on Wednesday between federal officials, the Atlantic Policy Council of First Nations Chiefs, and Potlotek's council, it was decided INAC would work with the Nova Scotia Emergency Measures Organization to find places for community members to do their laundry and shower, increase the amount of drinking water, and arrange the delivery of bulk drinking water for bathing, dishes, and light laundry. Portable showers arrived Friday, allowing some residents to shower for the first time in several days.

Meanwhile, First Nations communities, like Eskasoni First Nation, from across the Maritimes have stepped up to help, delivering truckloads of water to the reserve.

Marshall demanded that the government do an environmental study of the water.

"We want it fixed now," she said.

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