Zoo up creek over manure dump near Jones Falls

December 25, 1992|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer

Baltimore City officials are in deep doo-doo, as Presiden Bush might say, for letting the Baltimore Zoo dump tons of elephant dung and other animal droppings near the Jones Falls.

The city's Recreation and Parks Department was cited Wednesday by the Maryland Department of the Environment for improperly stockpiling zoo manure by the western bank of the stream, which is already badly degraded by urban and suburban pollution.

Acting on a complaint that the animal dung was fouling the Jones Falls, a state inspector earlier this month found huge, uncovered mounds of manure mixed with straw in a city-run recycling compound at Cold Spring Lane and the Jones Falls Expressway. The area, known as Camp Small, is also used to mulch leaves, grass clippings and trees collected from city streets and parks.

State inspectors did not see manure running into the stream, butthey were concerned that heavy rains could easily wash the waste down the steep bank nearby, polluting the water with bacteria and large doses of nutrients, said John Goheen, a spokesman for the state environmental agency.

The Chesapeake Bay and tributaries such as the Jones Falls are ailing from overdoses of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Runoff of nutrient-rich fertilizers and animal waste from farms has been blamed, along with sewage discharges, for leading to the loss of the oxygen and sunlight that fish and underwater grasses need.

The Jones Falls is still healthy enough to support trout upstream in Baltimore County. But its waters are badly degraded inside the city by sewage leaks and storm-water runoff that is laden with oil, silt, dog droppings, lawn fertilizers and toxic chemicals. The stream finally flows through concrete culverts under downtown streets and buildings for about two miles before emptying into the Inner Harbor.

A spokeswoman for the city's Recreation and Parks Department said that she knew nothing about the zoo manure problem. All the agency's top officials were off yesterday.

In addition to citing the city, the state gave the zoo 10 days to report on a plan to prevent manure from winding up in the stream, Mr. Goheen said. That report was due yesterday.

"We understand it's Christmastime," Mr. Goheen said. "We're looking to get something by early next week."

Zoo Director Brian A. Rutledge could not be reached yesterday for comment. A spokeswoman said that she was not aware of the manure problem or what steps are being taken to correct it.

The zoo, which is run by a nonprofit corporation, has arranged with the city to dispose of its manure at Camp Small, according to Karen Fulton, associate mammal curator. She said that she had no idea how much waste is generated by the zoo's 402 animals and 658 birds.

"It just keeps us real busy," she said. So busy that one zoo employee spends his entire week at the wheel of a 1-ton dump truck, hauling 20 loads of droppings and soiled straw collected from the animal compounds and bird cages to Camp Small, Ms. Fulton said.

"It is surprising how much manure animals can produce," said Lamonte Garber, a farm specialist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Harrisburg, Pa. "An average Holstein dairy cow produces about 100 pounds a day."

AWhile zoo animals are not the same as farm livestock, their waste poses the same water pollution problems, he said, and those problems can be corrected the same way.

State officials want a structure built around the manure stockpile to prevent it from being washed into the stream, Mr. Goheen said.

Farmers raising cattle, chickens and other livestock typically are required to store manure under cover to protect it from rain and to build a dike around it to contain runoff, he said.

A low earthen berm apparently had been erected between the zoo dung heaps and the stream, said Jack Bowen, the state agency's chief of inspection and compliance, but it was insufficient to prevent rain from washing waste off the site.

Other zoos have turned their animal droppings into dollars by selling composted manure to gardeners. One company, Zoo Doo Compost Co. in Memphis, Tenn., sells 15-pound bags of processed dung from plant-eating zoo animals for $10.

But the Baltimore Zoo lacks the space and the money to establish its own composting operation, said Ms. Fulton. And while some zoos also give away or sell raw manure, she said that the Baltimore Zoo feared being sued by someone who might claim they were harmed by bacteria in the dung.

Also, she said, "it isn't worth the hassle of dealing with 15 people a day coming in and getting a garbage bag full."

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