Saint John council hopes new chemical solves west side water woes

Saint John's common council is hoping a chemical known to reduce pipe corrosion will help solve the city's ongoing water problems — at least for now.

Residents are still not happy after the city announced it would implement an orthophosphate treatment system

David Thompson(centre), a west side resident, jumped into the middle of a media interview with Mike Chaulk (right), a spokesperson for CBCL Ltd., and Brent McGovern (left), a Saint John Water employee. He demanded to know what the city planned to do about all the skin problems people are having because of the current water problems. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

Saint John's common council is hoping a chemical known to reduce pipe corrosion will help solve the city's ongoing water problems  — at least for now.

Council passed a motion on Tuesday night, recommending staff implement an orthophosphate treatment system, adding the chemical into the water.

Brent McGovern, the Saint John Water employee who presented a report with the recommendation attached, said the chemical would either reduce the problem or do nothing at all. But it wouldn't do any further damage.

Orthophosphate is commonly used in other municipalities, such as Moncton.

Mike Chaulk, a spokesperson for CBCL Ltd., said the chemical is not dangerous to consume and is commonly found in most baking ingredients.

"It actually improves the product that is delivered by reducing corrosion in the system," he said.

City staff will report back to council on the new system in five months time, once research is completed and results are available.   

Chemical comes at a price

The instalment would cost about $46,000 and another $90,000 to purchase the chemical. But it's a gamble council is willing to take. 

The report stated the costs could be managed within the 2018 Water & Sewage operating budget.

No one voted against the motion, but Mayor Don Darling and Coun. Greg Norton recused themselves from the conversation. They cited potential conflicts of interest, as they both own properties on the west side.

About 5,600 customers were switched over to water drawn from the South Bay Wellfield in September.

Several residents say the harder water drawn from aquifers has caused plumbing damage, with many pipes bursting from the heavier particles found in the water.

What's causing the copper pipes to burst is currently under review at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.

Brent McGovern, a Saint John Water employee, helped present a report to council on Tuesday night. (Joseph Tunney)

"We're working with a couple of competing ideas of what that is," said Mike Chaulk, a spokesperson for CBCL Ltd., a consulting, engineering and environmental services company. "There's an idea that the groundwater itself is corrosive."

"There's another belief that it's the change from the old Spruce Lake surface water to the groundwater and it's the difference between the water chemistry that's causing destabilization of the plumbing system."

Depending on what the problem is, he said the course of action the city should take to fix the problem, might change.

But he pointed out that corrosion in the pipes was likely the result of more acidic Spruce Lake water that pumped through the plumbing for years.

"Premise plumbing was being corroded for decades and decades and decades."

Residents not happy

Residents from the city's west side attended Tuesday night's council meeting, sharing concerns over the new system.

Some were not pleased they weren't given the chance to share those concerns.

"It was a controlled meeting, we sat here like puppets," said Rasheed, a Saint John resident who has expressed his concerns in the past. 

"They weren't addressing our concerns, but they'll be hearing our concerns at another venue."

Coun. Blake Armstrong spoke with Rasheed after the meeting about the resident's concerns. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

Last Friday, the city was served with notice of a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of west side residents.

The lawsuit accuses the city of breach of contract, negligence and calls for compensation.

"I can assure the public, the water is safe," McGovern said.

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