Blockage sends 50 million gallons of raw sewage into Gwynns Falls

May 28, 2004|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

About 50 million gallons of raw sewage have spilled into the Gwynns Falls in West Baltimore as a result of a blocked sewer pipe that may not be fixed until tomorrow, city officials said yesterday.

"We don't have the equipment to get to the pipe," said George Winfield, director of Baltimore's Department of Public Works. He said that a contractor with machinery capable of digging more than 30 feet to reach the pipe won't arrive until tomorrow.

About 8.5 million gallons of sewage are flowing into the stream a day, Winfield said. Officials noticed a problem with the sewer line on Saturday but were unable to locate the blockage -- near Braddish Avenue and Winchester Street -- until Tuesday.

The 39-inch line is outfitted with an "overflow" system for sewage in case of a blockage. Overflow pipes are illegal today, Winfield said, and the city is in the process of removing them. It is unclear what is blocking the pipe, he said.

A second contractor will begin work today to try to stem the flow of sewage into the stream, which runs into the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River. Winfield said no efforts would be made to clean the stream, which should cleanse itself over time.

In the meantime, the Health Department has posted signs around the stream and in nearby Carroll Park warning residents not to go near the water. The signs will remain until health officials have tested the water and found it to be safe.

Officials with the Maryland Department of the Environment have been notified of the spill, and fines could be levied, Winfield said.

The Gwynns Falls spill will not affect drinking water or water recreation in the Inner Harbor or Chesapeake Bay, officials said.

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