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Residents express concerns to state environmental officials about MELP cleanup

August 26, 2013|By DAVE MCMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com
  • Marguerite Klein of Rohrersville studies a graphic projected on a screen Monday night showing chemicals that are in the water in the basement of the former Municipal Electric Light Plant.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — The idea of a company that works for the owner of the old Municipal Electric Light Plant being involved in the cleanup of PCB-laden water from the basement of that building reached the tipping point for Chris Klein on Monday evening.

Klein, who owns property along Antietam Creek, where treated wastewater from the old electric plant along Eastern Boulevard would be dumped, expressed frustration during a Maryland Department of the Environment meeting in Hagerstown.

He said Triad Engineering working on the cleanup is basically “the fox guarding the henhouse.”

Klein told MDE officials they need to take a more active role in overseeing how the water is treated.

“I want you guys over there to watch what’s going on,” Klein said.

Klein’s comments came during an informational hearing on a proposal by the owner of the former electric plant to pump up to 175,000 gallons of water per day from the inside of the building and discharge it into Antietam Creek.

Water in the plant contains antimony, arsenic, cadmium, lead, zinc, PCBs, and oils and greases that are above state standards.

During the meeting attended by about a dozen people in the Washington County Administration Building, a spokesman for Triad Engineering detailed how his firm plans to treat the polluted water before discharging it into the creek.

The MDE is considering granting a permit to owner David Harshman of Partners Marketing LLP to discharge the treated wastewater into the creek. The agency, which has not made a decision on the permit, is accepting public comments on the proposed permit until Sept. 4.

The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday is expected to continue discussing taking control of the 2.96-acre site through “eminent domain.” Eminent domain is the process by which a local government can take private property for public use.

Since coming into office, council members have said demolishing the blighted structure has been a priority. They said last week that it is time to force the owner’s hand in making that happen.

The plant was a coal-fired, steam-electric-generating facility operated by the city until about 1972.

Now, there might be up to 1 million gallons of water, estimated to be up to 7 feet deep, in the basement. Triad officials said they need to remove it before they can get equipment out of the building.

Although some people at Monday’s meeting praised Triad Engineering for the firm’s level of sophistication in the proposed treatment process, there was also concern about the project.

Brent Walls of Potomac Riverkeeper, an organization that works to protect water quality in the Potomac River, said he would like to see the water trucked from the site instead of dumped into the creek.

Walls said that would give him “extra” assurance that the PCBs in the water would be disposed of safely.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are synthetic chemicals that were once used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment. Their manufacture was halted in 1977 because of evidence they build up in the environment and can cause harmful health effects, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Project officials said hauling the water out would take a considerable amount of work.

“We figured it would be a lot of lot of trucks,” said Nicholas J. Wolfe, project geologist for Triad Engineering.

Harshman, who was at the hearing, estimated it would be about 173 loads.

Klein expressed concerns twice during the meeting about possible problems that might arise during the treatment and removal of the water.

Despite Klein’s request to have someone from the MDE at the plant to monitor the removal of water, MDE spokesman Ed Gertler said that is not how the process works.

Gertler, a technical adviser with the industrial and general permits division within MDE, said there are thousands of water-discharge operations across the nation that are handled by private companies.

He said there are not enough government inspectors to monitor everything.

Wolfe said the health of the creek is not sometime he takes lightly.

“I frequent the stream, too, so I don’t want to see it contaminated,” he said.

People sitting with Harshman at the hearing said there are penalties for violating environmental regulations.

“We’re not going to jail for anybody,” said Dave Roesler of Clean Venture, an environmental remediation firm.

Officials with the project said it would take about six days to pump the water out of the plant.

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