Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Farmer apologizes for spill

E-mail this article \ Print this article

Bill Ryan⁄The Gazette
Frederick County workers run a water line from a hydrant in Waterside to a hydrant in Walkersville Tuesday. A 6-inch pipeline from a manure lagoon to holding tanks broke for the second time in four days on Saturday, sending cow manure into Glade Creek, contaminating the water supply for 2,800 households.
Jimmy Stup, president of Teabow Farms, on Wednesday apologized for a manure spill that has contaminated the water for possibly months.

‘‘We’re extremely sorry for what’s happened,” Stup said in a telephone interview with The Gazette, adding that the leak was accidental.

‘‘I would never intentionally contaminate Glade Creek. Anyone that knows me would say that,” Stup said.

A 6-inch pipeline from a manure lagoon to holding tanks broke for the second time in four days on Saturday, sending a flood of cow excrement 2,000 feet through storm drains and into Glade Creek, Stup said.

‘‘It’s an automated system,” he said. ‘‘The pipe burst overnight.”

County and town officials hope by Monday to have a dedicated pipeline running from a Frederick water treatment plant into Walkersville so that the 2,800 affected households can have water suitable for cooking and drinking. The town and three neighboring subdivisions, Discovery, Spring Gardens and Glade Manor I, are meanwhile on a water boil advisory.

Water tankers have been traveling back and forth across the Monocacy River, delivering emergency water supplies to Walkersville municipal water customers, just as they did in 1999, when a development mishap caused a sewage spill into town water supplies.

This time, the pollution is much worse. More than three times as much filth entered the town’s water system last week, causing the town to shut the system down on Sunday.

The spills polluted Glade Creek, a Monocacy River tributary that runs through town. The polluted water then seeped into the town’s water table, through sinkholes and ‘‘natural flow,” according to Walkersville Commissioner Chad W. Weddle.

So far, only two people have called the Frederick County Health Department to report sickness linked to the contamination, said Barbara Brookmyer, a health officer for the county. There’s no way to confirm that those cases are a direct result of the contamination, Brookmyer added.

The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) is investigating the spills, according to Robert Ballinger, director of communications.

‘‘The outcome of the investigation will determine any enforcement action that must be taken,” Ballinger said Wednesday.

Walkersville draws its water from three wells, and stores it in three water towers. Those towers will have to be drained and refilled with a mixture of Frederick County and city water, just as in 1999, Weddle said.

Mike Marschner, Frederick County director of public utilities and solid waste, said Tuesday that initial tests have shown the amount of filth in the water — 73,000 E. coli organisms per 100 mL of water — is more than three times as high as the 1999 incident, and climbing.

‘‘We don’t know if it’s peaked yet,” Marschner said at a Walkersville press conference Tuesday afternoon.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov), E. coli is a bacteria commonly found in the intestines of healthy cattle. The bacteria can cause illness in humans, particularly in small children or elderly people.

The Frederick County Health Department is collecting water samples from 155 homes around Glade Creek, according to George Keller, director of environmental health. The department collected 28 samples by Tuesday, Keller said.

MDE is reviewing a 2002 incident at Teabow Farms, Ballinger said, after which the farm paid a $500 fine to the state.

Agency personnel responded to Glade Road on Friday after receiving a complaint — nearly 12 hours before a town employee traced the pollution from Walkersville’s water treatment plant to Teabow Farms, at 12:30 a.m., Saturday.

‘‘On one of our routine inspections, we had one of our staff there,” Ballinger said, adding that a resident’s complaint sparked the visit. The agency representative interviewed both the neighbor and the farm owner. ‘‘The farmer indicated that they had had a leak, a spill, and that protective actions were taken [to stop the spill].”

The agency took no further action on Friday. But on Saturday, the town became aware that the farm had spilled manure into the creek, Ballinger said, prompting MDE to return to the site and conduct tests. MDE found E. coli in Glade Creek, and is investigating the circumstances of the second spill.

Ed and Vicki Poole, and Thom Beckley, Glade Road residents, spoke at the Tuesday press conference, excoriating officials for ignoring what they said is an ongoing problem with the farm polluting the creek.

Vicki Poole said Wednesday that she and her husband live next to Teabow Farms, and have been using sodium chlorite to treat their drinking water for E. coli for years.

Poole called MDE on Friday morning, she said, and a compliance specialist responded at lunchtime.

‘‘It’s been a problem,” Poole said, adding that she had noticed that Glade Creek’s water was black and brown on the morning of Jan. 24. ‘‘I knew something had happened.”