Bay group blasts raw sewage spill

May 01, 2002|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

One of the state's largest environmental groups, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, lashed out at Baltimore County yesterday over the 6 million-gallon sewage spill into Gunpowder Falls that began Sunday.

Not only should people be fearful of contact with coliform and e-coli bacteria, but such spills put five to six times more nitrogen into the water than does treated sewage, a group official said.

Theresa Pierno, executive director of the Maryland chapter, called the spill "enormous" for a waterway the size of the Gunpowder Falls. At the spot where the spill occurred, the river is about 30 feet wide and a foot deep.

The bacteria are known to contaminate fish while too much nitrogen can lead to a loss of oxygen in the water.

"Here we are working to reduce nitrogen in the bay and here are all these sewage spills," Pierno said. "It's a problem that keeps on occurring."

Dr. David Pierce, supervisor of the state microbiology lab, said, "I can't think of a spill that has been as big as this. We're going to be following this one for a long time."

However, a representative from a second environmental group, Save Our Streams, said yesterday that she was not as concerned about the spill, which was caused by broken pumps.

"It's not a situation that happens regularly," said Sue Fothergill. "This is a one-time occurrence, this is not a regularly leaking pipe."

A county environmental official said yesterday that he hopes rain will help dilute the sewage before it gets downstream to the Gunpowder and Bird rivers and Chesapeake Bay.

County workers waded into Gunpowder Falls yesterday to collect water samples and survey the damage caused by the 20-hour spill.

The sewage spill began Sunday and lasted into Monday morning. The sewage was diverted into the Gunpowder Falls after pumps broke at the county's Perry Hall sewage pumping station, one of three that pushes sewage to the Back River Sewage Treatment Plant near Essex.

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