Shore Health has won approval from Maryland Department of the Environment to inject the chemical Ivey-sol® into the groundwater at Chester River Hospital — in an attempt to dissolve what remains of a large heating oil spill from 1988.

But the Chestertown Council directed Town Manager Bill Ingersoll on Monday to seek an injunction to stop it until MDE and the hospital can provide more information about the chemical and the risks the procedure poses to the town’s drinking wells, which are 400 yards downgrade from the hospital.

“[There’s] a significant lack of information on what’s in the product,” said Chestertown Utilities Manager Bob Sipes at Monday’s council meeting. “They won’t tell us what the chemical compounds are.”

Sipes said that Ivey International refused to disclose the compounds in Ivey-sol® because it is patented.

“We need to test our water for many different things in accordance with the Maryland Safe Drinking Water Act,” Sipes said. “If they’re going to put something in the water that could negatively impact us, we need to know that, and we need to have some input before that happens.”

Ivey-sol® dissolves oil into its basic components so it can mix with water and be easily drawn out of the ground.

“All the constituents parts of those hydrocarbons are still there but now they are able to move with the water,” Sipes said. “One of the things that keeps the oil from moving is that it’s bound to sand and dirt.”

The spill was originally estimated at over 100,000 gallons when it was discovered 25 years ago and a system of pumps and recovery wells was put in place to reclaim the oil and prevent it from migrating towards the town’s water plant.

Discovery of the spill in 1988 forced the immediate shut down of Well 8 on the south side of Campus Avenue.

The hospital received permission from MDE in July of 2012 to turn off the recovery system. The hospital claimed it had successfully recovered 83,000 gallons — but the system had to be turned on again in May of this year because oil had migrated past Brown Street, which the hospital said they would never let happen.

The hospital also neglected to tell MDE that one of the recovery wells was filling up with oil again. Sipes said the well had about five inches of heating oil.

The hospital’s latest plan will require the recovery system to be shut off  for 24 hours so the Ivey-sol® can break down the heating oil. The system will then be powered up and whatever is recovered will be pumped into tankers and hauled away. MDE has permitted the procedure to take place three times over a two week period but the town was not given any specific dates or times.

Sipes is concerned that it will be hard to reclaim all the oil once it’s broken down and moving faster in the aquifer.

“If you shut everything off, and everything is sitting still for 24 hours, I find it very hard to believe that nothing is going to migrate. The aquifer doesn’t stop moving just because this test is going on,” Sipes said. He said that MDE has even acknowledged the potential for the oil and the chemical to migrate off site.

Sipes said this was yet another instance when MDE and the hospital made decisions without including the town in the process. In the summer of 2011, with approval from MDE, the hospital injected 6,000 pounds of C02 into the groundwater to grow anaerobic bacteria that would break down the oil. It didn’t work and the town did not learn of the C02 injections until nearly a year later.

“We were told that we were going to be kept informed of what was going on at the hospital,” Sipes said. “They sent a whole team of people down here, and they sat here and told us we were going to be kept in the loop.”  He said the latest decision came after months of negotiations between MDE and the hospital — and without the town’s knowledge.

Susan Bull, who is the Eastern Region Head of MDE’s oil control program, said the agency has attempted to work with the town — but to no avail.

“I will tell you that MDE has reached out on numerous occasions to meet with the town to discuss this issue and they have chosen not to meet with us,” Bull said on Wednesday. “How come somebody from the town, when we’ve asked them over and over again, hasn’t responded or followed up on our request for a meeting. There are many things going on with this case and you are only hearing one side of the story. We have had outreach to the town, the mayor and the town manager get copied in on all of our letters.”

“I can tell you point blank I never heard anything about this until it was approved,” Sipes said by phone on Wednesday. “I never got an email, letter, or phone call that this was being considered.”

Ingersoll said he too never received any communications that the procedure was being considered.

Bull could not name one instance where this chemical has been used so close to a municipality’s drinking water system.

“This is a pilot program,” said MDE Deputy Director for Communication Jay Apperson. “The process is designed to expedite the cleanup of the site, and to be cautious and conservative we approved a more limited program than the hospital proposed. The oil control program reviewed this proposal in consultation with our department’s water supply program…that was done to express any concerns about the town’s drinking wells. We don’t expect there to be any effects on the town’s drinking water.”

“We have reached out to the town and we remain willing to meet with them and discuss this,” Apperson said.

But Apperson would not say if MDE would halt the procedure long enough to consult with the town.

Ingersoll expressed concern about what would happen if the wells became contaminated.

“It would cost millions of dollars to find new wells,” Ingersoll said. He said he was more concerned about the shallow wells.

“They produce a lot of our water,” Ingersoll said. “It’s just inconceivable what damage this could do.”

Councilman James Gatto said that MDE may be using Chestertown as test case since there is no history of the chemical being used so close to a municipal water supply. Gatto worked for the Maryland Department of Planning for 25 years.