Thursday, August 17, 2006

The city failed in gutting their industrial pretreatment program.

The employee they fired – came back! It seems that a little law, posted on bulletin board through out the city, had thwarted the city’s plans to relieve themselves of an employee.

The employee was admitted to the veteran’s hospital in Riviera Beach. He informed the city that he was undergoing chemotherapy and would be out of work on sick leave and ON FMLA LEAVE!

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993
The Family Medial Leave Act of 1993 requires that all employers with 50 or more employees provide this benefit to all employees effective August 5, 1993.
The act provides for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12 month period for: birth of a child, adoption or foster care placement of a child, need to care for a child, spouse/domestic partner or parent with a serious health condition, or the employees own serious health condition which makes the employee unable to perform his/her job.

The city managers invoked a rule that anyone on sick leave must call in every day and if they don’t call in 3 days in a row, can be fired. It doesn’t matter how many years that employee has been with the city. MISS THREE DAYS OF WORK, DON’T CALL = FIRED!

That employee had to hire a lawyer to get his job back.

Three people had been hired to replace him - the first two quit. Who would want to work at a place lacking job security if better pay, benefits and job security can be found elsewhere?

Am I the only one to see something gravely wrong here?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

I was informed that a meeting was held at the water treatment plant to inform all employees that they are not to have any contact with or talk with me. Upon learning of this, I phoned the lead shift operator phone number and talked with every one answering. I called several times until I covered all shifts. If I missed you, don't feel slighted, I will eventually try again.

I also sent this letter to the labor union. They have not replied.

Attention: National Conference of Firemen and Oilers SEIU Local 1227

Earlier this year, I gave a tour of the West Palm Beach water treatment plant to a (Union official) of local1227. I have since left the city. In part due to that tour,
my coworkers, many of them friends, have been order not to have any contact
with, or speak with me.

While the (Union official) and I both agreed that the city had a safety problem at their
plant, there has been no positive change since that time. The (Union official) later
notified me that the problem had been referred to the shop steward. If she did
anything about our concerns, it has not been enough for anyone to notice.

Since I am no longer a dues paying member of your union local, you need not do
any thing about this issue for my benefit, however there are a few union members
left at the water treatment plant who could use your assistance with the
abrogation of their civil rights by their employer.

Unless the right of free association has been lifted in this country or is no
longer available to employees of the City of West Palm Beach, I hope you can do
better than to deep six the issue with the shop steward this time.

Please look over my blog. Feel free to correct any errors or omissions via the
comments section.

Monday, July 03, 2006

City Fires Key Utility Department Personnel

In an effort to be unfair and shoot themselves in the foot(an euphemism), the city recently fired(told to quit) two employees. The only remaining worker in their Industrial Pretreatment program is gone. Then, a replacement quit soon after starting in the job. Industrial pretreatment is not a drinking water issue, at least not directly. Requiring businesses to clean or neutralize effluent before entering the city’s sewage system is the responsibility of this program.. It’s only relevance to this blog, is to point out the city’s neglect of programs to the extent that continuity and program knowledge is lost. Who is going to tell the new hire how to do the job? The answer is a supervisor who knows only a general outline of the job, many of the working details must be reinvented. Also, the person told to quit or be fired, for a real or perceived infraction, was not subjected to progressive and measured discipline as agreed to in the contract with the union.

The other employee had a position very critical to the water treatment plant. The electronics technician was “let go” after involvement in a physical fight. Again, the City did not take a measured or progressive disciplinary action. All of the electronics – every control of every component in the plant was installed or modified by this one man. Only he knows the details of these electronic devices. The work was overwhelming for one man. He could not keep up. The city did not see fit to hire even one more electronics tech - there was enough work for three! Now he is gone. The new person for that department will not be privy to the modifications done to the electronics hardware and programming. The new tech will have to scrap many if not all of the plant controls as they fail. The failure rate has been high. The cost to the city will also be very expensive.

Plant tour of March 3rd

The January 30 tour was given to a representative of the labor union. He simply pass the information on to the shop steward. To my knowledge, action by the labor union stopped there.

So, I again set up a tour, this time with the City of West Palm Beach Risk Management Department.

This is the agenda I gave them for the tour:

Risk Management tour of the Water Treatment Plant
March 3, 2006
4:30 PM

Wear proper attire and foot ware for a factory tour. You will be walking on steel gratings and open stringer stairways. Some areas have chemicals, dirt or cobwebs. The possibility of clothing damage exists.
Topic is “hazards to employees.”
Trip hazards: Hoses, pipes, open hatches and wires in walkways.
Violation of confined space rules. Re: high service pump #2, hand actuated valve access.
Chemical hazards. Ozone machinery room ozone leaks. Chlorine ton cylinder room is a dangerous anachronism. Most water treatment facilities have switched to chlorine bleach as a primary disinfectant.
.Disease hazards. Sludge press personnel handle sedimentation sludge that is not chlorine disinfected. (Ozone generation is only sufficient for periodic backwash water recovery.)
Condition of the filter media.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The West Palm Beach water treatment plant uses chlorine as a disinfectant. This is combined with ammonia to produce the relatively stable chloramines disinfectant, a commonly used method. Disinfection is the most important step in disease prevention. The chlorine form used by this plant is pure chlorine gas, liquefied under pressure in steel cylinders. Any leaks from these containers can be very deadly. The cylinders in one ton and 150 pound sizes are stored in a concrete walled building. The large cylinders are hooked up to piping in two banks of six cylinders each. There are two piping systems: One to take the gas upper phase; another to take the lower liquid. The liquid line goes through an evaporator for the conversion to gas. Down stream, the chlorine is metered and mixed into water and pumped to an in-plant water contact point. The chlorine storage area is fitted with a scrubber system. If a leak occurs, detectors in the room sound an audible alarm , a signal to a computer monitoring system and also turns on the scrubber. The scrubber is designed to neutralize the contents of a one ton chlorine cylinder by mixing the air drawn from the room into a large vat of sodium hydroxide. The neutralized air is then exhausted to the atmosphere. The four exit doors to the storage room and the two exit doors to the metering/pump room are protected by high tech cyber key locks.

The above is a well thought out system that is relatively safe if maintained properly. However, it is not!

The gas phase pipe system has a blockage and the piping is not usable. The gas phase of the cylinders is connected to the remaining line intended for liquid. That sends the chlorine through an evaporator. The evaporator had a leak last week. The leak continued for half a day until repaired. The chlorine disinfection was discontinued during the time it took to plug the leak.

The scrubber has a hole in the contact chamber. When operating, sodium hydroxide sprays out of the unit. So the scrubber is inoperative awaiting repair.

There is a valve separating the two banks of cylinders. It is electrically operated and has a leak that feeds back chlorine to the bank not in service.

Chlorine is a strong oxidizing agent. It supports combustion. Oily rags, wood, and hydrocarbons such as oil or grease can ignite in the presence of chlorine. During time of emergency such as a hurricane, a truck and trailer carrying a motorized airboat are stored with the chlorine. Currently, bags of carbon are being stored there. The following inquiry was sent to the Chlorine Institute (the trade group sponsored safety group). The reply will be reported here when it arrives.

“I am a licensed water treatment plant operator. My question: Is there anything wrong with storing bags of granulated or powdered carbon in a chlorine tons (for chlorine gas in one ton cylinders) storage room? The West Palm Beach water treatment plant in the state of Florida is doing just that. I contacted their risk management group. Result: my complaint was ignored. I contacted the local office of the state health department. They think it is ok. I think that a chlorine leak could ignite most hydrocarbons, including dry carbon. I have not preformed the experiment and never intend to, but that is what the above mentioned groups are doing. What does the Chlorine Institute say about this?”

There are other problems: The cyber key door lock system is defective. Most of the doors cannot be opened from the outside with the key. Those that do open often require repeated tries.

Chlorine in the 150 pound cylinders is used throughout the distribution system and is located at the repump stations. Leaks are common as the station hook ups need replacement. To their credit, the Town of Palm Beach does not permit the use of chlorine in gas cylinders within the town. The two repump stations in Palm Beach are serviced with liquid bleach.

How dangerous is a chlorine leak? The West Palm Beach water treatment plant has from 12 to 18 full cylinders and about that many nearly empty cylinders. The gas is heavier than air. Each cylinder has six plugs intended to melt in the heat of a fire. Twelve hooked up cylinders can leak out in a piping leak (recall that the valve between the banks of 6 has a leak and cylinders are hooked up in a manifold of 6). In a fire, up to 36 full and partial cylinders can leak. More than eighteen tons of chlorine released at once! The gas is heavier than air. It will move with the wind. Much like the mustard gas of World War II, it can kill or maim all those in its path.

Friday, May 26, 2006

The January 30, 2006 tour update

The tour in January was given to a union official. He was skeptical of any problems at the plant. He brought along his cell phone –camera and took several pictures. He stated that Boynton Beach has safety problems at their water treatment plant and the union had been instrumental in fixing those. At the end of the tour he stated that we do have serious problems here and he would do what he could. To date, he has done nothing.

The east building high service pump is in violation of the city lock-out, tag-out policy. Further, it can result in loss of life and shut down water service to the entire service area for several days.

The filter access problem has not been altered. However, computer control was restored, so that workers do not have to climb and crawl through the pipe galley for routine filter washing.

Some of the open gratings have been covered. This was not done as a result of any union input. Two gratings were covered following a request from the health department.

The chemical treatment in use for the past ten years has been defective, resulting in a hard complex of ferric sulfate and lime coating the piping and filter media. This problem, ignored by management, has resulted in periodic pipe and filter media replacement at great expense. For the past several years these fixes have been discontinued. Now the pipes leading to the filters are so occluded that diesel pumps and hoses have been employed to bring the water to the filters. The filter media has been coated by that chemical complex, rendering the media ineffective. The sand, garnet and carbon of the filters are no longer adsorptive and have aggregated into rock with fissures for the water flow. Any microbes that are not destroyed by chlorine disinfectant pass through to the customers. That includes the algae that produce the earthy taste and odor and protozoan that produce disease.

This could be expected in the water system for Baghdad, but it is the water system for the richest people in the world, the residents of the Town of Palm Beach.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

In a January 30, 2006 Tour of the West Palm Beach Water Treatment Plant, Several irregularities were noted.

I am highlighting a few of these:
The east building high service no. 2 pump has a defective control valve. To turn the pump on or off, An employee must climb down a ladder beneath a grating and crawl through a sub basement chamber to reach a manual control valve to open or close it all whole the pump is running. This “temporary” measure has existed for more than one year.
The filters are set up to work via unreliable computer control. This system has been out of service repeatedly. There is no redundancy or back up. Employees routinely perform mandatory backwashing procedures by locally operating each valve actuator in situ. This necessitates climbing into holes beneath gratings, crawling under gratings. Walking on, climbing over and stretching across three or four foot gaps, with no benefit of ladders. Some walkways are blocked by unnecessary slop sinks.
A walk throughout this factory presents one with a maze of wires, pipes, open gratings excavations and other hazards with little to no hazard warnings. Most of these obstacles have been in place for more than one year. In some chemical treatment rooms, access to the machinery was blocked by rows of barrels, open gratings, hoses and pipes. There are also physical and chemical hazards inherent in this type of operation. Certainly the employees should not be distracted from the job at hand by the above noted problems.

Beyond the obstacle course, it was also noted that the filter media for the city’s drinking water consists of lumps, rocks and fissures. Half of the equipment as broken or out of service: Ozone disinfection, Potassium permanganate machinery, a mud filled sedimentation basin, a disassembled transfer pump lying on the ground and improvised pumps and hose to move water around old deposit filled pipes that can no longer deliver water. I worry for the safety of the customers using the water from this facility.

How has this situation been permitted to go on for so long? Doesn’t the city have any regard for the safety of it’s employees and citizens?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The answer: West Palm Beach