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Sewer spill cost about $40,000

March 07, 2002|BY DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

The chemical spill that caused the partial shutdown of the Hagerstown sewage treatment plant last month cost the city government about $40,000, Plant Superintendent Donald Barton said Wednesday.

The costs incurred included about $8,000 for chlorine and dechlorination chemicals to disinfect the waste water passing through the plant, $3,000 for additional laboratory testing of sewage samples, and as much as $20,000 in labor costs, he said.

Barton said that operations at the plant were back to pre-shutdown levels, and he expects the signs warning the public to stay away from Antietam Creek to come down on March 15.

The sewage treatment plant off Frederick Street was partially shut down Feb. 9 after high concentrations of chemicals common to industrial cleaners and other industrial products were dumped into the sewer system, killing the sewage-eating bacteria used to break down complex bacteria and chemicals at the plant. Barton said officials don't know who dumped the chemicals into the sewer system.

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The screening and settling steps of the treatment process, which remove sludge and other solid material, continued operating during the partial shutdown. But the disinfection and bacteria treatments were stopped, which allowed 5.6 million gallons of largely untreated wastewater to flow daily from the plant into Antietam Creek.

A chlorine disinfection process put in place on Feb. 12 dramatically lessened the bacteria levels flowing into the creek. The bacteria used in treatment was being regrown at the plant within days of the partial shutdown.

"We're pretty much back to where we were before it started," Barton said Wednesday. "On (Feb.) 23rd our phosphorous numbers were back to normal, and bacteria levels have been pretty good since (Feb.) 15th."

Tests of wastewater coming from the plant show the plant has been operating at pre-shutdown levels since March 1, he said.

There have been no reports of the contaminated waste water having a negative impact on the creek or wildlife, he said.

Signs warning people not to come into contact with the creek remain posted at public access points downstream from the sewer plant.

Those signs could come down March 15, which would be a month after tests showed bacteria levels coming from the plant were back within state-allowed ranges, Barton said.

"Thirty days is the standard. It's a leeway for safety," he said.

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