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Handling of sewer situation discussed

February 25, 2002|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

There is almost no way to prevent a repeat of the chemical contamination that prompted the partial shutdown of the Hagerstown sewage treatment plant earlier this month, City Water Pollution Control Department Manager Rick Thomas said.

The city sewer system is too large and has too many manholes and customers, he said.

But there could be ways to improve the handling of a future shutdown.

The chemicals - toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene - are believed to have been dumped into the sewer system, either by a business serviced by the system or by someone who poured the chemicals down a manhole.

Maryland Department of the Environment spokesman John Verrico said that agency still is investigating the source of the chemicals and has received "a couple" of calls to its Hagerstown office regarding the incident.

During a partial shutdown of the city's treatment plant off Frederick Street, sludge and other solid materials were being removed from the sewage. But the ozone disinfecting and bacteria treatments of the waste water were stopped, allowing 5.6 million gallons a day of largely untreated waste water to flow into Antietam Creek.

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Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said that in the future the plant should be able to switch to chlorine disinfecting sooner than it did.

"I know we need MDE approval (to use chlorine)," Breichner said. "But maybe we could do it faster. ... I don't see anything else we can do."

Some have questioned why signs warning people not to come in contact with the creek were not posted until the day after the partial shutdown.

"Initial conversations with the state were that because of the dilution factor (with the creek waters) there was no need to notify the public," Thomas said.

But MDE spokesman Richard McIntire said the signs should have gone up Saturday, the first day of the shutdown. Anytime there is a spill of more than 10,000 gallons into a public waterway there is supposed to be public notification, including the posting of signs, he said.

Kimmy Armstrong, acting director of environmental health at the Washington County Health Department, said the "lag time" between the shutdown and the signs going up was caused by the time it takes to make the signs.

Thomas said that he believes everything was handled correctly during the partial shutdown.

City and MDE officials will eventually get together to review the episode and how it was handled, he said.

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