Officials say sewage hasn't hurt wildlife

February 20, 2002

Officials say sewage hasn't hurt wildlife


Hagerstown and state officials say the millions of gallons of untreated or partially treated waste water that has flowed from the city sewer plant over the past week hasn't harmed the wildlife along Antietam Creek. Jim Kline would like to believe them.

"But you can't always believe what you hear," Kline said.

A member and past president of the Maryland B.A.S.S. Federation, and Hagerstown native who has been fishing on the creek since he was a child, Kline has been doing his own monitoring of the creek since Sunday.

He visits eight spots along the creek daily, observing, taking pictures, and looking for dead fish in the creek, which flows into the Potomac River south of Sharpsburg.

An unusual amount of white foam has been flowing down the creek, and the waters were murkier than usual, but he hasn't seen any dead fish.


During his Friday afternoon stop at Devil's Backbone County Park near Boonsboro, Kline said the creek looks like "it's cleaning up."

The white foam has noticeably decreased, and the sewage smell is less noticeable than on previous days.

The city plant was partially shut down Saturday after the sewage-eating bacteria that make waste water more treatable were killed by toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene, which are common chemicals in industrial cleaners, insecticides, paint and other manufacturing products. Hagerstown and MDE officials don't know the source of the chemicals, and MDE has asked that anyone who saw suspicious activity or dumping into the Hagerstown sewer system call 301-739-8068.

Rick Thomas, manager of the city sewer department, said probably hundreds of gallons of the chemicals were dumped into the sewer system. About 5.6 million gallons of waste water flow daily from the Hagerstown plant into the creek.

The screening and settling steps of the treatment process, which remove solid material such as sludge, continued running during the partial shutdown. But the ozone disinfection and bacteria treatments of the waste water were shut down. On Tuesday, the plant began using a chlorine disinfection process, which kills most bacteria and has essentially ended the flow of contaminated waste water into the creek, Maryland Department of the Environment spokesman Richard McIntire has said.

The City of Brunswick in Frederick County, Md., which operates the closest down-river water plant, didn't take in water from the Potomac River from Tuesday until Thursday morning.

Brunswick City Administrator David Dunn said the water plant shutdown was done "as a precaution," and said the city has not detected any contamination from the Hagerstown plant.

Any contaminants from Hagerstown are expected to be greatly diluted and almost undetectable down river, McIntire has said.

Thomas said that while treatment improves each day, the plant won't be back to 100 percent until the ozone disinfection is back on line and the sewage-eating bacteria is back to full strength.

New sewage-eating bacteria, which breaks down complex bacteria and other chemicals, is growing at the plant and is treating some sewage, but not as much as it would when fully healthy, Thomas said.

"Things are improving. (But) I'm not saying we're at our best," he said.

Thomas said he hopes the waste water flowing out of the plant will be back to pre-shutdown quality by Feb. 25.

The public is being advised not to come into contact with the creek.

Kline said he'll continue inspecting the creek at least until officials say the Hagerstown sewer plant is back to operating at normal levels.

"I hope I don't find anything," said Kline, 52, who works as a correctional officer at the Maryland Correctional Training Center south of Hagerstown.

"There's always a problem when there's an unknown solution," Kline said. "It may take a while to see the effects."

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