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State official tours landfill, sewer plant

June 05, 2004|By GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN

While the state's top environment official said he was "impressed" with two of Washington County's largest waste disposal facilities, he noted Friday that some areas need work.

Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Kendl P. Philbrick took office in March. He and other state officials toured the Washington County Forty West Municipal Landfill and the Hagerstown Waste Water Treatment Plant Friday as part of a three-day tour of Western Maryland.

"We'll always have waste to get rid of, but I think it's important that we protect the environment in that process," Philbrick said.

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The first tour of the day began at the landfill, where Philbrick asked county Solid Waste Director Bob Davenport about the landfill's operation, and then toured the garbage dumping grounds and recycling efforts.

The landfill uses layers of materials between the bedrock and the garbage that is dumped there daily. Clay, plastic sheeting and stone are used to filter out pollutants, and then porous pipes channel the collected water to a pumping system. The waste water is trucked to the county's sewage treatment plant, Davenport said.

Philbrick said the landfill is a "state of the art" facility, but he would like to see an effort to begin recycling computer and other electronic equipment. Philbrick also said that is something his department may begin providing money to do.

"I think it's a matter of educating (residents) ... that you just don't throw (electronics) away with your normal trash," Philbrick said. He said those items can contain harmful poisons such as mercury, which can contaminate water supplies.

The MDE officials next stopped at Hagerstown's sewage plant.

The plant uses a series of storage tanks, pipes, pumps, filters, scrubbers and bubblers to remove solid waste as well as bacteria and excess nutrients.

The treated water then is discharged into Antietam Creek, and some of the officials noted the water appeared cleaner than the upstream water in the creek.

A contractor at the city sewage plant takes the sludge, processes it on site and turns it into grayish-brown pellets. Those pellets, which are smaller than a dime, are sold in bulk as fertilizer to farms along the East Coast, including ones in Washington County and orange groves in Florida, plant manager Richard Schuman said.

Philbrick said it is apparent the city sewage operation is suffering from population growth, and faces "serious" problems in dealing with rainwater that enters the sewage system.

Because of the rainwater problem, after heavy rains the plant sometimes has to pump water into Antietam Creek that has not been disinfected, Water and Sewer Manager David Shindle has said.

Philbrick, however, said with upgrades the city is planning for the sewer system, he believes the city's plant is well-managed and heading in the right direction.

"I don't know if I've seen any better (sewer plants)," Philbrick said.

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