Engineer blames faulty sewage line for Cornwall Regional fumes

Executive editor — publications

Sunday, February 25, 2018

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A local engineer with more than 40 years' experience says he's convinced that the offensive odour problem plaguing Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) is emanating from the sewage system serving the facility and is offering to help correct it at no cost to the Government.

But Lascelles Dixon says he's disappointed that a letter he sent to Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton last month with his hypothesis and offer appears not to have been brought to the minister's attention.

“I am of the view that the minister has not seen the letter and it has been kept from him by people in the ministry,” Dixon told the Jamaica Observer two weeks ago.

Last year noxious fumes leaking from a faulty ventilation system forced an evacuation from three lower floors of the hospital after complaints from patients and staff.

In addition, some outpatient services were moved to other locations on the premises, while most were housed at the nearby Seventh-day Adventist Western Jamaica Conference facility.

In May, Dr Tufton told staff and journalists during a visit to the hospital that the Government had signed two contracts aimed at addressing the ongoing ventilation issue.

“We have been able now to sign officially with the project manager. They will be on site very soon and they will take control of the management of the project through to completion. They are very experienced. They will bring in personnel as required and part of that project management is going to be the assessment of the infrastructure, particularly as it relates to plumbing, electrical, the building itself in terms of leaks, and so on. They are also going to be playing a role in looking at process flow, the work flow,” stated Dr Tufton.

“They will be renovating some of the buildings currently not occupied... the old library, etc. And so I am hoping too that at the end of the process we will have additional space to be a lot more comfortable. They are going to be doing some training in an area like maintenance, because we don't want to get back to the stage again... something that we're going to have to look at in the longer term also,” added Dr Tufton.

In his letter Dixon — who earned a diploma in construction engineering at the College of Arts, Science, and Technology (now University of Technology, Jamaica) and two bachelors degrees, one in environmental studies and the other in architecture, from the University of Manitoba, Canada, on a Jamaica Government scholarship — said he agreed with the decisions taken by Tufton and the health ministry to shut down the affected wards and to upgrade the hospital as much as possible.

He said while he agreed that the air-conditioning system is a very serious component of the dilemma and that it must be replaced, he did not share the view that the problem begins and ends there.

“The offending gases which polluted most/all of the CRH spaces originated in the sewage treatment plant which serves the hospital and not from the AC system,” Dixon said.

According to him, the gases are flowing in the opposite direction to the sewage flow and, upon arrival at the hospital, are picked up by the air conditioning system and circulated throughout the facility.

Dixon said that the gases generated from the treatment of sewage are known to contain nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, and carbon dioxide all of which can be deadly — depending on the volume inhaled.

He said that sewage systems are usually designed with water traps (or 'U'-shaped water seals) to stop the flow of gases. “These traps can, however, cease to function, owing to the breaking of the water seals through syphonage or by the creation of negative pressures, particularly if the piping system which carries the sewage is not strategically ventilated,” said Dixon.

He attached a drawing of a 'U'-shaped water seal to his letter and recommended that two such traps be installed to the sewage system at the hospital.

Dixon said he was making the offer of his services free because he benefited from the country and as such felt a need to give back.

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