Dawson wastewater plant plagued by mould

Community Services Minister Brad Cathers was in Dawson City last week to tour various facilities in the town. One site he didn't see was the new $25-million wastewater treatment plant.

Community Services Minister Brad Cathers was in Dawson City last week to tour various facilities in the town.

One site he didn’t see was the new $25-million wastewater treatment plant.

Even if he’d wanted to, he wouldn’t have been allowed in the building.

That’s because the plant was undergoing a mandatory mould cleanup, and access to the building was restricted.

In August, inspectors from the Yukon Workers Compensation Health and Safety Board discovered a “significant” amount of mould growing in the facility, and ordered the plant’s operator, Corix, to clean it up.

“We issued orders to Corix to clean up the mould using acceptable remediation methods and to take measures to eliminate the moisture that would promote mould growth in the future,” said Richard Mostyn, a spokesman for the board.

During the cleanup, only Corix employees were allowed in the building, Mostyn said.

Cathers did not return the News’s request for comment. Cabinet spokeswoman Elaine Schiman said Cathers didn’t have time in his schedule to tour the facility.

The fact that Cathers didn’t, or couldn’t, tour the building raises serious concerns, said Klondike MLA Sandy Silver.

“He’s the new minister in that portfolio. If touring the facility wasn’t on his agenda, that’s a shame. It he didn’t have time, shame on him. But if he wanted to, he couldn’t have,” Silver said.

According to Highways and Public Works spokeswoman Kendra Black, the clean-up was completed yesterday. Black said the mould was not black mould. She couldn’t say how serious of a health risk it posed.

Corix spokesman Sean Twomey declined to offer details, saying it was the Yukon government’s role to speak to the matter.

Despite the workers compensation board’s clean-up order, Twomey said the mould contamination, likely caused by dampness in the building, was “not a big issue” and that the building is now safe.

Mould isn’t the only problem plaguing the plant.

Earlier in the summer, during the Dawson City Music Festival, the city had a water-quality grab sample come back from the lab showing 120 times the allowable limit of fecal coliform, according to Dawson City’s superintendent of public works, Norm Carlson.

A series of tests done in July by Corix, which will be posted publicly on the Yukon Water Board website, also showed highly varied results in fecal coliform, ranging from around 380 units per 100 millilitres of water up to 20,000 units. The highest allowable limit under the plant’s water licence is 1,000 units per 100 ml of water.

“The fact that they’re so varied speaks for itself,” Carlson said.

Black said that grab samples are inherently varied and that composite samples taken over an extended period of time are more accurate. She could not provide records of July’s composite samples by press time.

The plant operates as a hybrid between a mechanical system and a biological one. Bacteria and oxygen in the wastewater help eliminate contaminants, but keeping the organisms fed and healthy is a challenge.

Catherine Harwood, the Public Works project manager in charge of the treatment plant, said that Corix has been trying new types of chemical treatment and mechanical mixers that, in the short term, could be causing spikes in the fecal coliform numbers.

“It’s a short-term problem because it increases the amount of solids, but it’s a long-term investment because it helps grow a healthier bug population,” she said.

When Corix was hired to build the new facility, its contract with the Yukon government required that it would run the plant for a year as a way to ensure everything was running smoothly before turning the keys and the costs over to the town.

That was scheduled to happen at the end of August, but to do so, Corix also needed to show three months of acceptable water-quality levels. So far, they haven’t been able to do that.

The plant is meeting the required toxicity levels, but Dawson’s mayor Wayne Potoroka is still worried about the fecal coliform.

“We’re happy the plant is meeting toxicity standards but of course we’re concerned it isn’t meeting all the effluent guidelines, especially during the peak sewage loads of summer. This sewage plant is a critical piece of infrastructure, and if Dawson takes it over, we expect it to be effective as well as affordable,” Potoroka said in an email.

Silver said he doesn’t want to see the plant turned over to the city until it has a full year of incident-free operation and is meeting the water quality standards.

“That yearly clock needs to be reset now, today,” he said.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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