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Advisory is issued for Antietam Creek

June 19, 2004|By RYAN C. TUCK

HAGERSTOWN

The Washington County Health Department released an advisory Thursday telling residents to avoid water contact, swimming and fishing in Antietam Creek.

The creek was infected with partially treated wastewater that was released from Hagerstown's Wastewater Treatment Plant Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, plant Superintendent Donald Barton said.

Health Department officials said Friday afternoon that residents should "exercise caution" in approaching or using the stream through the end of the week.

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Early Monday, approximately 18,600 gallons of treated but undisinfected wastewater was released from the plant due to rain from recent storms, Barton said.

At around 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday, 1.2 million gallons of undisinfected wastewater escaped because of a two-hour power outage, also caused by a storm, he said.

At around 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday, another storm-produced power outage caused the release of 225,000 gallons of undisinfected wastewater, Barton said.

Barton said outages are expected from the weather, but that the weather of the past 18 months has been "odd." The plant has recorded 53 inches of rain during that time period. He said 35 inches is the average.

National Weather Service officials were investigating the possibility of a tornado in Washington County Tuesday. Monday and Tuesday's storms eventually were classified as "isolated" incidents.

Barton said increased rain causes the groundwater table to rise, which can infiltrate the underground pump lines and cause undisinfected water to be released prematurely.

The plant has experienced other similar shutdowns. In February, 3.2 million gallons of partially treated wastewater polluted the portion of the creek between the plant and Devil's Backbone Park for four days.

On Feb. 9, 2002, 22.4 million gallons of untreated and partially-treated wastewater was released from the plant after a shutdown. The cause was believed to be a chemical that had infiltrated release lines and provoked an untimely release.

Plant officials are attempting to reduce the number of shutdowns through a series of upgrades that they plan to have operational within two years. Barton said officials currently are receiving bids for a project packet that will create a higher-capacity pumping system and an improved final water clarifier, which will help with settling solids.

The new pump system would increase the pump capacity from 18 million to 33 million gallons.

Health Department officials said they are not worried about these releases "on an ongoing basis."

For more information on Antietam Creek, contact the Health Department at 301-791-3270.

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