A 2016 consent order between University of Maryland Shore Regional Health and Maryland Department of the Environment to manage, and eventually close out, a massive heating oil spill case at the hospital here was predicated on the continuation of specific test standards used over the last 30 years to measure the level of contaminants in the groundwater.

The test standards suddenly changed in 2017 to a method that artificially lowers the level of contaminates, which is of great concern to Chestertown Utilities Manager Bob Sipes as Shore Health tries to gain approval from MDE to turn off a containment system that keeps roughly 80,000 gallons of heating oil from reaching the town’s drinking water plant.

The spill site at the hospital here sits 1,100 feet downgradient from the spill.

The 2016 consent agreement specifically required Shore Health to use an EPA approved “8015” test to measure the parts per million of contaminants in the groundwater, and it would be the standard to allow Shore Health to discontinue any further cleanup of the site when the level of contaminates was at 1 part per million or less.

But in 2017, a year after the consent order was signed, Shore Health began using a Silica Gel test, which essentially cleans the samples from the monitoring wells before they are tested, Sipes said.

“They are using the Silica Gel test to clean those numbers up,” Sipes said at the Aug. 3 Town Council meeting. “I guarantee you that no one wants to drink what they are not testing for.”

“The test method doesn’t change what’s in the ground,” he said. He said it would not change what could actually show up in the drinking water.

The Silica test began appearing in the quarterly sampling results in the third quarter of 2017. In the second quarter of 2018, the Silica test results were published with a new legend stating that some monitoring wells had met “Consent Order Criteria” of less than 1 part per million, but the traditional 8015 test indicated that most of the monitoring wells tested exceeded the 1ppm standard in the consent order.

The town sent a letter to MDE this week imploring the agency to follow the original test standards laid out in the 2016 consent order.