Bionest Kodiak offers a pilot project to prove their system

Iqaluit eyes a fix for its non-functioning sewage treatment

By JOHN BIRD

It looks like spinach linguini, or more appropriately, like the dreadlocks on the creature from the Black Lagoon.

But it's really a tangled mass of flat, extruded ABS plastic. And it could be the key to resurrecting Iqaluit's stillborn sewage treatment plant.

Yves Garceau and Serge Baillargeon came to Iqaluit's engineering committee of the whole last week with a plan to start the badly needed secondary treatment of sewage that has been hanging fire for too many years in the city.

All they would have to do, they said, would be to fill the city's empty, in-ground sewage tanks with their plastic linguini "fixed-film media," hook up some pipes, wire in the aerators that are also sitting there unused, and the whole system could be ready to go.

The Bionest Kodiak representatives had originally come to Iqaluit to offer one of their company's sewage-treatment containers for a year – free of charge – so the city could run some of its sewage through the system and test the results.

The pilot project could be done for $60,000, Baillargeon said, to cover the cost of shipping, time for technicians to hook everything up properly, and to train local staff to do data collection and monitoring.

He said the containerized system, which he described as a "turnkey operation," needs very little day-to-day maintenance or management.

It was originally designed for use in mining and other camps where the containers can be almost literally dropped in place when a camp is being set up, and then removed when the mine or other operation closes, without requiring extensive and expensive cleanup.

But the system should also work well in any of the northern communities throughout Nunavut and Nunavik, they said.

A municipality can hook up as many containers as it needs to handle the sewage flow, then add more as the population increases.

In the case of Iqaluit, a separate cluster of containers could be installed in Apex, to avoid having to truck or pump sewage over the hill to the main treatment centre at the head of Koojesse Inlet.

Garceau and Baillargeon, were introduced to the committee by long-time Iqaluit resident Jacques Belleau, who also warned them council would be ultra-cautious, having been burned on its last attempt to bring in proper treatment facilities.

That's why they offered to start with the pilot project.

In 1999, Iqaluit hired an outfit by the name of Hill Murray and Associates to install a state-of-the-art membrane microfiltration treatment plant.

After spending more than $7 million, the city ended up with a facility that didn't work. It had serious design defects requiring at least $3.3 million worth of repairs.

The installation still sits idle, and the city's present "non-system" consists only of a filter to screen out the larger particles and a lagoon.

Garceau, who served as a manager with Air Inuit on the Quebec coast of Hudson Bay back in the early 1990s, is confident in his company's technology.

"We're not afraid of having it tested," he said. "We know the technology is excellent. That's why we're ready to prove it with a pilot project."

Baillargeon, the technical expert, explained to the city committee that it produces cleaner treated water than national sewage-treatment standards demand, and does it more quickly and efficiently than the standard activated-sludge system most commonly used in southern cities.

But Garceau and Baillargeon also had another last-minute offer to throw into the pot.

When the two men got to Iqaluit and had a look at the facilities previously installed for the aborted sewage-treatment plant, they realized the installed equipment could be relatively easily adapted to their fixed-film media system (i.e., using their "linguini").

"We're not tank manufacturers," Baillargeon said. The media can be adapted to any type of tank. "If it was my home, I would try to make the best use I could of what I already had."

Glenn Williams asked Garceau and Baillargeon to work with the city engineer to get more exact data on Iqaluit's sewage needs, and to bring a more detailed proposal back to council May 12, complete with cost estimates to treat the city's sewage to varying levels of water quality.

How it works

The secret is in the fixed-film media

When you're wading a stream and your foot slips on a greasy film on the rocks, that film is bacteria that have attached themselves to the rocks and are using oxygen to digest the organic matter that floats by.

Other bacteria that do the same job are free floating, and those are the types found in the activated-sludge sewage treatment systems used most commonly in southern Canada.

Bionest's plastic linguini simply imitates the rocks in a stream, but goes one better by providing much more area within a given volume of water for the bacteria to attach themselves and digest the organic matter.

The inert, non-biodegradable plastic that fits in one cubic metre of water can provide 100 square metres of surface for the bacteria to live on, while only displacing three per cent of the water.

That makes the sewage treatment system much more efficient than either the free-floating bacteria found in southern systems, or than other media.

The system installed by Hill Murray and Associates offered a more hi-tech solution that cleaned the sewage by forcing the water through membranous microfilters.

That's a more efficient system when it works properly, said Bionest Kodiak engineer Serge Baillargeon.

But it's also more expensive, more complicated, needs more trained management, and offers more possibilities for things to go wrong.

Which they did.

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