Perth Children’s Hospital wastewater recycling system to stay switched off
A wastewater recycling system at Perth Children’s Hospital will not be switched on when the scandal-plagued facility opens next month.
The Sunday Times revealed in February that the $230,000 system had been installed in the hospital’s basement to reuse water from showers to flush toilets.
It was installed sometime in 2014 without the statutory approvals from the Department of Health, which later raised concerns about the risk to human health.
It has now emerged the department only became aware of the scheme in December 2016 after Environmental Health Directorate staff spotted pipework when inspecting the plumbing. Yesterday, Health Minister Roger Cook said the system would remain switched off when PCH finally opens its doors to patients.
“There are no imminent plans to turn the greywater system on, however, a revised greywater plan may be submitted in the future,” he said.
The water scandal was first publicly revealed by The Sunday Times in February after documents that detailed its existence were obtained through freedom of information laws.
The system was installed in PCH sometime in 2014 without DOH approval, a breach of guidelines for using recycled water in WA.
Additional information sought by The Sunday Times also reveals the department was kept in the dark about its installation for about two years until a site inspection on December 23, 2016 confirmed its existence.
“DOH first became aware on 23 December 2016 after Environmental Health Directorate staff identified the pipework when inspecting the plumbing installations to provide advice on the water quality assessments,” a DOH spokesman said.
Shower water from the hospital was to be used for toilets, urinals and bed pan macerators in PCH.
The system, which was integrated into the hospital’s overall plumbing system, now remains dormant indefinitely.
It is the first time a system that blends drinking water with treated wastewater has been fitted inside a hospital, according to emailed advice from DOH’s environmental health director Jim Dodds.
Minutes of the former PCH taskforce in May 2017 exposed a row between top-ranking officials over the risks and benefits of the recycling system.
The minutes said Treasury’s Strategic Projects executive director Richard Mann, a key player in the plagued PCH project, stated Mr Mann “hoped that the system would be approved by DOH as he believed it was a good initiative and low risk”.
But in a letter in June 2016 that formed part of May 2017 briefing note by Mr Dodds, an Environmental Health Directorate manager labelled the system as “high exposure risk level”, based on guidelines for non-potable uses of recycled water in WA.
The manager’s assessment was based on a proposal by the John Holland contractor to install the system, even though DOH was still unaware it had already been installed.
The manager also said the operating and monitoring costs for the system were “well above the cost/benefit” of the proposed reuse water savings.
A PCH project spokeswoman said there was “no evidence that a conscious decision was made to not comply with the guidelines”.
Tender documents published last month show a permanent filtration system would be installed at PCH to replace the temporary filters used to lower the level of lead contamination in the hospital’s drinking water.
Mr Cook, who this week announced that the hospital’s water was now safe to drink, confirmed a phosphate treatment to help reduce lead in the water would continue. He said it was hoped the dosage could be reduced because of the reduction in brass fittings in the plumbing system.
The WA Government previously said the treatment would cost $120,000 over 18 months. Monthly water testing would also continue.
Source: The Sunday Times