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Raw sewage spilled from the only inbound sewer serving Mattawoman Wastewater Treatment Plant in western Charles County on Tuesday. The overflow was caused by heavy rain from Hurricane Sandy, according to a county government news release.

The government asked residents to stay away from the spill near the intersection of Hawthorne and Livingston roads, and to stay away from Mattawoman Creek in the La Plata area. Signs will be posted and the warning could last for days, the release stated.

Public Works Director Bill Shreve said his department was still investigating how much sewage had spilled and would provide a report to the Maryland Department of the Environment within five days. He said a fine for the spill was unlikely because events like hurricanes are considered extraordinary and unavoidable.

There was a previous spill at the same site in September 2011 after Tropical Storm Lee, Shreve said. After that spill, workers bolted down manhole covers. This time, the sewage welled up from the ground, indicating that something underground is leaking.

Mattawoman is one of Maryland’s “enhanced nutrient removal” plants, Shreve said.

“They’ve been recognized for that. We actually have engineers coming from all over to look at that plant. It still needs a lot of work. The economy has hit us hard the last couple years. The facility operates fairly well, but it’s difficult to design a wastewater treatment plant to handle a 100-year storm, a 200-year storm or a once-in-a-lifetime storm” like Sandy, Shreve said.

The plant is designed to handle up to 20 million gallons of waste a day; during the storm, it received almost 40, he said. Risk to human health is “minimal” because the spill is about three-quarters rainwater, the cold water inhibits bacterial growth and the waste is flowing rapidly out to the Chesapeake Bay, Shreve said. But the Charles County Department of Health will test water samples nearby.

In late 2011, Charles County government paid a $67,200 settlement to the Maryland Department of the Environment for other overflows of sewers serving the Mattawoman wastewater treatment plant, according to county documents. Those spills occurred between October 2009 and December 2010.

MDE spokesman Jay Apperson did not have information immediately available about the history of spills at the site. A representative of the Charles County Department of Health could not be reached for comment late Tuesday afternoon.

ERICA MITRANO