Used condoms and black muck lay tangled in the grass Friday between a county manhole and Rock Creek's troubled headwaters.
A health inspector discovered the sewage spill accidentally Friday morning, prompting Rock Creek activists to renew their calls for immediate action to clean up the Patapsco River tributary.
Officials with the county Department of Utilities confirmed Friday that sewage had spilled from the manhole, which lies between the Rock Creek pumping station and the Cox Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant. But how much spilled and when the spill occurred is unknown, they said.
Residents have complained for more than 12 years about the creek's polluted, oxygen-poor water and the nauseating, rotten-egg smell caused by the hydrogen sulfide gas belched from the creek bottom.
Pollutants washing into the creek from the Patapsco are the primary problem, officials have said. But excessive sediment running off construction sites and failing septic systems also have been cited.
Darlene Schepleng, a Water Oak Point Road resident, and Linda Dooley,a Pekin Road resident, said Friday they believe faulty sewer lines are a serious problem.
"The county has been blaming the problem in Rock Creek for years on septic tank users," said Schepleng. "We've been contending all along that the problem has been in the area served by county sewer. This shows we were right."
Schepleng said she believes the county has denied responsibility in effort to duck additional cleanup costs.
County and state officials are spending $1.3 million installing experimental aerators in the headwaters and dredging some of the polluted soils from a small channel below Pekin Bridge. Officials hope the channel and aerators will increase the amount of oxygen, necessary for health aquatic life, in the water, eliminating the rotten-egg smell.
The dredging is set to begin next month.
Utility workers, doing quarterly maintainance at the manhole off PeakinRoad, found evidence of a spill as early as Tuesday. But, Michael Bonk, northeast regional manager of waste water operations, said the spill was never reported.
"If a spill looks large enough to reach a stream, they should report it," Bonk said. "We'll have to check into that."