Yesterday, June 27th, the Sudden Valley Community experienced a chlorine leak at Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District water treatment facility proximate to AM/PM Beach. Initially, LWWSD personnel thought the event was minor, and shared that information with our maintenance manager, who shared that with our Operations Manager and me, Dan Pike, the SVCA General Manager. Following outreach from the South Lake Whatcom Fire District to the LWWSD, it became clear that the situation was more serious than originally understood. One child was transported by South Lake Whatcom Fire District personnel for treatment at St. Joseph Hospital in Bellingham. That information was not shared with Sudden Valley staff or leadership at the employee or Board of Directors level.
I reached out to LWWSD General Manager, Justin Clary, this morning to gain an understanding of what happened, what we can learn from it, and how we can ensure better notification protocols are in place going forward. We had a positive and productive discussion, and out of that Mr. Clary provided an informative recap of the events, our shared discussion, and some changes in LWWSD practice going forward to both prevent recurrences of yesterday’s events and also to ensure better communications between our agencies around any future situations that may arise.
I really appreciate the quick, effective response that General Manager Clary has provided to this situation, and want to share it with the SVCA community to provide greater accuracy in a time of overreliance on social media as a news source. GM Clary’s response and explanation follows:
The District uses chlorine gas at its Sudden Valley Water Treatment Plant to disinfect water as part of the treatment process prior to its distribution to our South Shore (Sudden Valley and Geneva) customers. Every approximately 20 days, District staff change out expended chlorine cannisters with full ones. While changing out cannisters yesterday morning, District staff also changed out the chlorinator (device that regulates the injection of the chlorine gas into the water stream). The District typically changes out the chlorinator every year or so.
At around 10:30 a.m., while staff were changing out the chlorinator, there was a release of a small amount of residual chlorine in the chlorinator (speaking with our treatment plant operator, this is a typical occurrence when changing out chlorinators). The gas is then mechanically vented to the outside. Unfortunately, there was little to no wind to dissipate the small amount of chlorine outside. The lack of wind, combined with a high number citizens in the AM/PM beach area due to the high temperatures, created significant concern, including a couple of calls to 911 to which South Whatcom Fire Authority responded (and apparently transport of a small boy due to breathing difficulties). Assistant Chief Mitch Nolze visited the plant, determined no lingering concern remained, and departed.
I discussed with the crew this morning potential protocol changes to address the issue. Future work associated with changing out chlorine cylinders and/or the chlorinator will be conducted during periods when the public is not anticipated to be present in high volumes at the adjacent park and when there is at least some wind to more quickly dissipate the vented chlorine. We also discussed exploring if completing the chlorinator changeout when the plant is operating could create a vacuum that draws the residual chlorine into the water stream rather than releases it to the atmosphere.
We greatly appreciate LWWSD fast response to both the developing situation and changes to procedure to make these processes safer in the future.
Dan Pike, Sudden Valley General Manager.