In 2016, University of Maryland Shore Regional Health entered into a consent order with Maryland Department of the Environment to manage and eventually close out a pollution case at the hospital here that began in the late 1980s — when an underground storage tank leaked an estimated 160,000 gallons of heating oil into the ground.

The consent agreement specifically required Shore Health to use an EPA approved “8015” test to measure the parts per million of contaminants in the groundwater to monitor the cleanup progress. 

This test would be the standard to guide decisions that would allow the containment system, an array of recovery pumps and wells, to be turned off and a 24-month monitoring period to begin. The containment system keeps the oil plume from moving downhill towards the town’s water plant.

The consent order stated that sample results of contaminants would have to be 1 part per million or less to begin a post cleanup shutdown of the containment system.

But in 2017, a year after the consent order was signed, Shore Health began using another test, the Silica Gel test, which essentially cleans the samples from the monitoring wells before they are tested. Chestertown Utilities Manager Bob Sipes, who’s been in a decade’s long battle to protect the water supply, said he’s seen little evidence in his research that makes the Silica test a compliance tool, and that it is outside the lane of the requirements in the 2016 consent order.

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.” 

Sipes laments that the Silica test removes what you’re supposed to be testing for and artificially lowers the test results below 1 part per million in many instances.

The most recent test results in April show that nine monitoring wells failed to meet the consent order agreement under the required 8015 standard, yet 13 met the consent order criteria under the Silica method, which cleans the sample before it is run through the 8015 method. (See Figure 1 below)

 

A former MDE official, a former EPA official and Sipes say the bulk of the unaccounted for oil, roughly 80,000 gallons, most likely exists in the subsurface and poses a threat to the town’s water plant — just 1,100 feet downhill from the edge of the spill zone — should the containment system be turned off. All three have little faith in the Silica test as a compliance tool for measuring the contaminants.

Since UMMS Shore Regional Health took over the hospital in 2011, their CEO Ken Kozel has tried to fast track a shutdown of the system with the help of MDE, another state agency.

In 2012, Shore Health shut down the containment system for almost a year with approval from MDE. The town was never notified until MDE ordered a reactivation of the system a year later when oil began to move down gradient in the direction of the water plant. 

Shore Health nor MDE responded to requests from the Kent Pilot to explain the new testing regime that began a year after the 2016 consent agreement was signed — and if the Silica results will ultimately decide the future of monitoring, cleanup, and the eventual shutdown of the containment system.

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