12 YEARS AFTER WALKERTON, ONTARIO TOWN FINED FOR COOKING WATER REPORTS TO MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT FROM 2004 to 2009
Two Operators fined, Lead operator doing time- 2/1/13
Update 2/1/13 - 11:00
According to Ontario Ministry of Environment (MOE) Court Bulletins, the Municipality of West Elgin and three of its water distribution system operators were fined $154,500 on January 4, 2013 for drinking water violations, including providing false information and failing to report adverse test results in several instances between 2004 and 2009.
Lloyd Jarvis was the lead operator and Chad Yokom and Michael Kalita the certified operators at the West Elgin water system. It was during an annual Ministry inspection in 2010 that MOE staff found that that the minimum level of chlorine had not been maintained in the system, log books had been altered and false information had been provided to the ministry.
The City was fined $129,000, operators Yokom $6,000 and Kalita $4,500. All water operators were convicted but only lead operator Lloyd Harvis was sentenced to 30 days in jail, and ordered to surrender his certificate to operate a drinking water system, as well as being fined $15,000.
West Elgin City Manager Scott Gawley told our reporter that operators Yokom and Kalita still work for the city's water department, while lead operator Lloyd Jarvis is serving his sentence on weekends.
According to Gawley, the low chlorine levels in the distribution system stemmed from water standing in dead head pipes. "Chlorination is done at the treatment plant but its levels decrease as water accumulates at the end of sealed pipes. The city has now installed auto flushers to ensure that there is water turnover on a regular basis, allowing for freshly chlorinated water to reach throughout the system", he says.
There are 5,700 people in West Elgin but according to Jordan, it's a rural community and few are on the water system. No illnesses were reported. However, the fine issued against West Elgin, if paid through municipal taxes, translates to $22.63 per person for being misinformed by the municipalty and risking illness through inadequately disinfected water.
It took MOE 6 years to detect the problem in West Elgin, and, as reported in the Toronto Star, the town council was shocked when told of the Ministry's discovery during one of its regular annual inspections in 2010; the city had received glowing reports "about its water quality then and the years previous based on samples tested by the government".
Update 2/1/13 - 19:48
Ontario Ministry of Environment media relations officer Lindsay Davidson told our reporter that the ministry is required to inspect all municipal residential systems at least once per year. Asked why West ELgin got away with falsified reports for so long, 2004-2009, she emailed the following reply:
" MOE inspectors were being provided with falsified records by the system operators, and instances where chlorine dropped below required levels were not reported to the ministry as required. However, during this period, results of water quality tests for the system performed by an independent, licensed lab were being provided directly to the ministry and did not indicate any contamination of the water supply, which would have triggered additional followup from the ministry and local health unit."
Ontario Ministry of Environment does not audit water systems.
"Municipalities are required to have third-party accreditation bodies perform quality management audits of their systemís operations on a regular basis. Audits do not involve checks on compliance with our water safety regulations", wrote Davidson.
According to her, the false records were finally detected when the ministry inspector "noticed that several entries in the logbook appeared to have been altered and conducted appropriate follow up". Davidson added "It is important to note that the falsification of records was discovered by our inspector in the course of the systemís regular annual inspection in 2010".
West Elgin Press Release
Ontario Ministry of Environment Court Bulletin
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