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Zenon military water purification units sidelined
until courts determine who should maintain them 

February 8, 2005

By STEPHEN THORNE

OTTAWA (CP) - Two-thirds of the military's 22 high-tech Zenon water purification units are out of commission because of servicing delays caused by a court battle over who gets to maintain them, says the Defense Department. The military has been unable to service the units since the court action was filed last March, and the work is piling up.

"From a life-cycle management perspective, you'd certainly want a greater number of units available than what's currently there," Elizabeth Hodges, a civilian spokeswoman at National Defense Headquarters, said Tuesday.

Nine of the units are awaiting overhaul after deployments or because of scheduled mid-life refits, four more are deployed to Sri Lanka, one is in Kabul and one of the remainder is out of commission, said Hodges.

The four in Sri Lanka are to return by sea later this month and will be unavailable for use elsewhere until they are serviced, a job delayed by a Federal Court case over the Public Works contract governing it.

The federal government and the maker of the reverse osmosis water purification units must wait for the judge's ruling on who will be allowed to "repair and overhaul" them.

Zenon Environmental Inc. is first seeking an interim injunction preventing Public Works from contracting servicing of the water purification system to a competitor, Seprotech Systems Inc. of Ottawa.

Zenon, which claims the purchase contract promised it responsibility for servicing, fears trade secrets will be lost if the job is farmed out to another company, especially Seprotech, court documents suggest.

It argues the cat will be out of the bag if the judge allows the work to proceed while it is arguing the larger case in court.

The system is capable of purifying any kind of water in the world, says the Canadian army website. It can treat water tainted by nuclear, biological or chemical warfare agents, as well as fresh, brackish or sea water.

Self-powered and mobile, it is ideal for combat deployments or relief efforts, such as those provided by the military's Disaster Assistance Response Team since the Dec. 26 tsunami in south Asia.

The commander of the DART, Lt.-Col. Mike Voith, said Tuesday his water purification units performed beyond expectations during their 40-day stint in the hard-hit Ampara region, where more than 10,000 people died.

"They've been working flawlessly," Voith said from Sri Lanka as the first of his 200 soldiers prepared to start returning home next Monday.

"We've made over 2.5 million litres of water; we're far exceeding the rated capacity of the machines. We've not had any maintenance problems, per se."

The operation was unaffected by the court case, he added.

Zenon has maintained the units, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece, since it delivered the first one in the mid-1990s.

Its motion for an interim injunction, filed after reverse osmosis units were set up by Canadian peacemakers in Afghanistan, was heard in Federal Court on Feb. 1.

The judge reserved decision. Once there is a ruling, Zenon will make its case for a permanent order.