2nd sewer line found clogged in city stream

Herring Run spill now put at about 25 million gallons

March 01, 2003|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

The discovery yesterday morning of a second clogged line in a sewer pipe in Herring Run - about 1,000 feet upstream from where a blockage has dumped millions of gallons of raw sewage into the stream this week - has exacerbated one of the worst spills in Baltimore history.

Crews will likely work through the weekend to attack the stubborn overflow, which is dumping about 2 million gallons of sewage a day into the stream, said Kurt Kocher, spokesman for the Department of Public Works.

On Monday, a passer-by discovered the first backup, in a 36-inch-wide trunk line under the Harford Road bridge in Herring Run. But it appears that the spill may have started a week ago, when a resident noticed it but failed to alert watershed authorities.

The newly discovered blockage is in a 24-inch-wide line.

"We're concentrating on the 36-inch line, and once we get that solved, we will then attack the problem on the 24-inch line," Kocher said.

Officials initially estimated the amount of the spill at 30 million gallons, but now estimate the total since the spill began as about 25 million gallons, he said.

Public works officials said they are nearly certain both blockages in the Herring Run interceptor were caused by melting snow and heavy rains. One theory has been that swiftly moving water dislodged an upstream manhole cover or disturbed an "access point" that protrudes above the stream and permits workers to perform maintenance on the pipe, Kocher said.

A major trunk line in the sewer system, the pipe collects wastewater and transports it to the Back River sewage treatment plant.

The sewer system was built in the early part of the 20th century, and many of the pipes are more than 50 years old.

Kocher said officials have found a badly damaged access point that will have to be addressed. Kocher said it may have been damaged in the blizzard of 1996.

"We're going to have to rebuild that," he said. "The crews will be out there for a while."

News of a second clogged line wasn't what Richard Hersey, executive director of the Herring Run Watershed Association, and others wanted to hear.

"I was surprised that we didn't pick up on that earlier," he said last night. "It would seem like a normal thing to do, go back up the line and check it, but I understand how everybody was distracted by the magnitude of the spill right where they were."

Hersey said he's concerned about environmental damage.

"It's a big topic of conversation over here," he said. "I'm getting a lot of phone calls. It's unfortunate that it takes a big accident like this to get people's attention."

City Health Commissioner Dr. Peter L. Beilenson said that while hepatitis A and other viruses can be caused by contaminated water, the risk factor for health problems associated with the spill is low this time of year. He said the spill does not affect drinking water.

"From a public health standpoint, because no one in their right mind is going to be playing in or drinking out of that water, ... it will have, by that time, moved downstream into larger and larger bodies of water where the pollution will be diluted out," Beilenson said.

Money to improve the state's sewer systems is a top priority of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who has proposed spending $224 million on environmental initiatives, including $95 million for water and waste-water systems.

"That has been a demonstrated need," said Richard McIntire, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment. "We're talking nearly a billion dollars to get all the systems across the state repaired to where they're not leaking."

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