City officials were ready to play hardball with Interior Health this past winter over the disposal of foam from the fire-suppression system attached to the new helipad at Penticton Regional Hospital.
The foam solution is toxic in high concentrations and does not break down in water, so it’s not meant to be disposed of through the sewer, as was apparently planned during testing of the system atop the David E. Kampe Tower.
“I received a call today from City of Penticton staff expressing great concern about the foam being used for the helipad,” David Fowler, IH’s director of major capital redevelopments, wrote in a Jan. 17 email to a colleague that was obtained by The Herald through a freedom of information request.
“The intended plan for it to drain into the storm or sanitary sewer system is absolutely unacceptable from their perspective,” he continued.
“They have stated they need to receive an acceptable solution prior to the city approving a foam test. If a foam test is conducted without their approval they will likely post a notice on the new patient care tower denying occupancy.”
By the time testing actually began, drains to collect the foam had been hooked up to a dedicated containment tank. However, that was not enough to prevent some of the foam from getting into the sewer system anyway during a March 20 mishap.
For that day’s test, the drains had been temporarily tied into a vacuum truck that was supposed to leave with the used foam. However, a temporary coupling failed and allowed some of the foam to enter a drain and eventually the city sewer system.
The amount that escaped was “believed to be less than one gallon” tower contractor EllisDon said in a statement at the time that also noted no “adverse environmental effects” were expected.
However, the foam, which expands when it comes into contact with water, eventually began bubbling up from toilets and other plumbing fixtures on the ground floor of the tower six storeys below.