Jul 08, 2004

Locked Out City Workers Head Off Water Contamination

Nelson, B.C., city workers were abruptly pulled away from Canada Day festivities when two locked out sewage treatment plant operators, working reduced hours due to the lockout, discovered contaminated water entering the Kootenay River. Digesters that normally press waste had become overloaded and were allowing "black" effluent with high coliform counts to enter the Kootenay water system.

"Management certainly never picked up on the contamination - they're not trained," says Jim Cavers, chief sewage treatment plant operator with 28 years of service. Cavers and his crew are all certified wastewater operators, qualifications that management assigned to oversee the operations lack.

"There is no way the city of Nelson or its managers can responsibly ensure our water system is safe while the workers that are qualified to treat, maintain and monitor it are out on the street," Cavers said. "This is a human and environmental disaster waiting to happen."

Nelson's locked out city workers immediately volunteered to extend their hours of essential service provision to ensure digesters are operating regularly and Nelson's water supply is safe. "Even though we believe that what the city is doing to us is unfair, we cannot and will not sit idly by and put our neigbours at risk."

Just a day earlier (June 30th), the same workers narrowly caught sewage from overflowing at the North Shore Lift station. There had been an electrical failure that caused the pump and safety alarms to malfunction failing to alert crews that raw sewage had reached less than a foot from the top of the lift station tank. Had it overflowed, it would have gone onto the ground and leaked into the Kootenay River, right across from Lakeside Park.

Managers overseeing the water treatment plant are also not qualified to chlorinate the water as they lack the necessary chlorine handler's ticket. "We know these guys (management) don't have a clue what they are doing. We may have averted a major disaster once by extending our hours, but as the weather gets warmer the risks get greater...we're very worried."

Canadian Union of Public Employees - British Columbia President Barry O'Neill issued a letter to Nelson's locked out city workers congratulating them for putting aside their pain and hardship at being locked out in the interest of protecting public safety.

CUPE 339, the union representing the workers, is asking concerned residents and visitors to contact Nelson City Hall at 354-4779. Information regarding the lockout can be found at http://lockoutnelson.blogspot.com.