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Falls Water Board concedes human error led to black discharge

Human error caused the black discharge from the Niagara Falls waste water treatment plant last Saturday, according to a statement released Friday night.

The employee  monitoring the discharge at the plant left to help with work elsewhere in the plant and returned to find the discharge was dark, according to the  statement from Rolfe Porter, executive director of the Niagara Falls Water Board.


Here is Porter's explanation, in part. Italics are added:

"The Chief Operator reported to work at 6:00 am on July 29, 2017 to commence the Work, along with two employees. These employees are believed to have had the job title “trainee,” in part because the Civil Service examination required to advance beyond the “trainee” job title is offered infrequently. The “trainee” employees nevertheless are trained on the aspects of plant operations for which they were responsible.

"After an issue with valves was resolved with the assistance of maintenance, the Work was commenced on July 29, 2017 at about 9:00 am. The submersible pump in sedimentation basin #5 continued to operate, and the Chief Operator instructed both of the employees to pay close attention to the process changes. He instructed them to turn off the submersible pump in sedimentation basin #5, which pumps to the treatment plant’s chlorine contact tank, when the color of the water in the chlorine contact tank began to darken. The Chief Operator left the facility in the late morning. He made contact with the operations employees after 1:00 pm. No issues were reported at that time. At about 2:30 pm, one of the employees observed that the water being pumped from sedimentation basin #5 to the chlorine contact tank was still light in color.

"These two employees remained working second shift along with the Assistant Operator. At about 5 p.m., the employees left a telephone message with the Chief Operator that the submersible pump in sedimentation basin #5 had been turned off after one of the employees observed that water being pumped from sedimentation basin #5 had become darker in color. The Chief Operator was told at that time by the Assistant Operator on duty that plant was running under normal operational conditions. Apparently around the same time, several telephone calls about the appearance of dark water in the Lower Niagara River were received by the wastewater treatment plant and were forwarded to the wastewater control room. The Chief Operator also contacted the third shift operator with regard to plant operations. The third shift operator advised that, to his knowledge, operations are running well with no known issues...

"Shortly thereafter, the NFWB received a large number of telephone calls and text messages about the discharge of dark water into the Lower Niagara River...

"Since the discharge of dark water into the Lower Niagara River, the NFWB has learned that, during some portion of the time period when one of the employees was charged with the task of monitoring the outflow from sedimentation basin #5, he had been called away by another employee to another section of the wastewater treatment plant to assist with another task. When he returned and observed that outflow from sedimentation basin #5 had grown darker in color, he reported this observation to the Assistant Operator and the submersible pump in sedimentation basin was #5 shut off. Based on all of the above, it is our preliminary belief that the submersible pump in sedimentation basin #5 was allowed to run longer than was intended, which caused a higher concentration of backwash water to enter the chlorine contact tank than occurs under normal conditions."

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