BWI to curb runoff from de-icer use

May 06, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

Two local streams will run cleaner next year because of an agreement reached yesterday that will cut in half the level of aircraft de-icer runoff from Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The agreement, reached after a public hearing in January, requires the Maryland Aviation Administration (MAA) to spend $14.5 million during the next two years to build devices to collect and to store the chemical runoff.

The MAA will be required to monitor the amount of de-icing fluid it uses and where it goes. It also must file an annual report with the state Department of the Environment (DOE).

In return, the DOE renewed the airport's permit for storm runoff and treated wastewater.

The announcement was applauded by environmental groups and state officials as a major step toward improving Muddy Bridge Branch, a tributary of the Sawmill Creek watershed, and Kitten Branch. Sawmill Creek is one of four watersheds targeted in a state plan to improve water quality in waterways leading to the Chesapeake Bay.

A spokesman for the Sawmill Creek Watershed Association said the need for the plan was apparent during this harsh winter, when an exceptionally large amount of de-icer fluid drained into the stream.

"A lot of people who live along the Muddy Bridge Branch have complained that they have seen the water flow pink at times," said Rick MacDonald, president of the association. "There also has been a constant chemical smell."

Stuart Lehman, the target watershed program chief for DNR, said his agency has been monitoring the amount of de-icing fluid in the water since 1991. He said tests showed a high concentration, several thousand parts per liter, after some of the snow and ice storms this past winter.

The chemicals that help the de-icing fluid stick to airplane wings rob waterways of their oxygen and harm aquatic life. Between 30,000 and 180,000 gallons of de-icing compounds are used annually at the airport, depending on the weather.

Mr. Lehman said the chemicals caused the stream to emit "a strong industrial smell" and caused the water to bubble. "I think this plan will help stop some of those obvious signs of pollution," he said.

However, Mr. Lehman warned that the Muddy Bridge Branch has other problems aside from the airport, such as runoff from parking lots and construction sites.

Theodore Mathison, the MAA administrator, said the agreement and subsequent water quality permit came after talks with airline officials, who, he said, "realized that we must be a good shepherd to the environment."

In June, crews will begin construction of de-icing areas, or pads, to capture and to store the fluid, which can either be recycled or disposed of in a safe manner.

Mr. Mathison noted that the collection system is only partially effective because many planes will be de-iced at the gate and on the taxiways before they reach the runway pads.

To ensure a higher level of collection, the state will spend $1.5 million for five vacuum-equipped sweeper vehicles, or scrubbers.

These scrubbers, which look like the machines used to clear ice rinks, will capture de-icing fluid that escapes the pads. The MAA will buy more if the machines prove effective, Mr. Mathison said.

The clean-up program will be funded by the $3 Passenger Facility Charge, which is tacked onto the cost of every BWI airline ticket.

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