Task force to inspect all Balto. Co. sewage stations

Team created in response to spills into local waters

May 08, 2002|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County public works officials are creating a task force to inspect more than 100 sewage pumping stations after two spills that poured nearly 5.2 million gallons of raw sewage into Maryland waterways within a week.

Creation of the four-person task force occurs a day after 190,000 gallons of sewage spilled into Schoolhouse Cove and Bear Creek in Dundalk. That spill followed last week's 5 million-gallon discharge into Gunpowder Falls in Perry Hall.

"Right now, what we're saying is that we're going to start looking at every station," county public works Director Edward C. Adams Jr. said yesterday. "We have to fix this to give the public the reliability they expect."

Yesterday's announcement occurred on a day when the county reported a 9,000-gallon spill caused by a blocked sewer main in Overlea Monday night.

Adams said that the task force - two engineers, a crew chief and an electrician - would inspect each of the county's 106 pumping stations. Adams was unsure how long the inspections would take but said that primary and backup systems will be reviewed.

The county has set aside $250 million over the next five years to improve the sewer system, made up of 3,000 miles of pipe that handles 100 million gallons of effluent daily. Some of that money will pay for a computerized system that will identify specific problems at stations and relay that information to workers, Adams said.

"We have to give the public a comfort level that we're doing the right thing," he said.

The task force's top priority will be to try to pinpoint the problem that caused a mechanical failure Sunday morning at the North Point Village pumping station - a tiny red-brick station at 7618 Battle Grove Ave. in a residential section of Dundalk - leading to the 190,000-gallon spill.

An alarm went off at the pumping station at 2:30 a.m. Sunday, Adams said. A worker checked the station, found nothing wrong, but switched to a backup system. That system also failed, but no alarm sounded and the spill went undetected until Monday morning.

As they did a week earlier at Gunpowder Falls, county environmental officials posted signs near the Dundalk waterways warning against boating for fear of human contact with bacteria. Fish caught in the creeks should be discarded, officials said.

The 5 million-gallon spill into Gunpowder Falls was blamed on an unidentified foreign object that entered the system and damaged a pump. County environmental officials said yesterday that warning signs are still posted in the area and that tests by the Maryland Department of the Environment show a slow dilution of bacteria in the water.

"I would kind of hope that we're seeing an across-the-board improvement," said Bill Clarke, program manager for the county Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management. "When we feel the conditions are normal, we'll pull the signs."

The spill Monday occurred when an 18-inch sewer main became blocked and a manhole overflowed shortly after 6 p.m. on Trumps Mill Road near the Gardens of Faith Cemetery. The spill flowed into Stemmers Run, officials said. Work crews cleared the main about 10 p.m.

The formation of a task force was welcomed yesterday by environmental groups, although some wondered whether it would be enough to prevent further problems.

"The public needs to be assured that they are taking every step possible to prevent these incidents," said Theresa Pierno, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Andrew Fellows, Chesapeake program director for Washington-based Clean Water Action Inc., called the task force a start. "I would also encourage them to include citizen participation," Fellows said.

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