UMMS Shore Regional Health has brought in a new consultant to work with Maryland Department of the Environment to handle the massive heating oil spill that occurred in the late 1980s at the hospital here.

Gannett Flemming of Camphill, PA will now take over as consultant and is the fourth consultant Shore Health has used in their attempt to close out the case file for nearly a decade.

The previous consultants, Hall & Bauer, EBA Engineering and BrightFields, Inc., were recently replaced for not properly reporting the breakdown of a containment system that keeps the oil from migrating 1,100 feet downhill in the direction of the water plant.

“The existing team…did an excellent job remediating the spill but recent events made it clear that using multiple contractors created a risk of miscommunication – even among experienced professionals,” said Shore Health’s legal counsel, Michael Powell of Gordon Feinblatt LLC, in a letter to MDE’s oil control program chief, Chris Ralston on Sept. 1 “Shore Health made the decision to consolidate responsibility in a single company which would be accountable for every aspect of the remediation.”

MDE generally requires breakdowns of remediation systems be reported within 24 to 48 hours, but MDE was unaware of the breakdowns that occurred between April and June that kept the system off for 53 days.

Because of the failure to notify MDE, the agency postponed an approved shutdown the hospital had scheduled this summer — But MDE will allow a shutdown to commence after October.

Roughly 80,000 gallons still remains in the aquifer that supplies much of Chestertown’s drinking water, according to EPA guidance, a former MDE official and Chestertown Utilities Manager Bob Sipes.

Sipes and former MDE official, Fred Keer, have warned that turning off the containment system, even with approval from MDE, poses a risk to the town’s water supply with 80,000 gallons of oil still unaccounted for.

In 2011 the hospital turned off the containment system for over a year — and the town only learned of the shutdown when the containment system had to be reactivated in a hurry when oil began to move again.  The containment system had been off for over a year and oil moved closer to the town’s water plant than ever before.

Also in 2011, Shore Health injected 6,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, and later oxygen, into the Aquia Aquifer to grow anaerobic bacteria–in an attempt to degrade and break down any remaining heating oil. The injections occurred between July and September of 2011 but the town was only made aware of the injections in April of 2012.

In 2014 MDE approved a pilot test that allowed Shore Heath to inject a chemical detergent into the ground at the hospital. The study brought great concern to Sipes and Keer that the process could have unintended consequences and push the oil closer to the water plant. 

The process also brought concerns from the hospital’s consultant at the time, Earth Data. They questioned the process and were abruptly replaced by Brightfields, Inc. of Wilmington, Delaware.

At the Sept. 8 Town Council meeting, Sipes said he believed that Gannett Flemming was less concerned with environmental impacts to the town and was brought in to get the case legally closed out.

“I’ve asked around…and they’re better at the litigious side of it than the remediation side of it,” Sipes said. “The impression is that what they want to do is close it out, and they’re going to start pushing very hard to close it out, not with remediation, they’re going to start pushing MDE to close this thing out.”

Sipes urged residents to contact their council members.

“Let them know how important this is,” he said.

“The more you hear from people that it’s a concern, the more weight it puts on you,” Sipes said. 

 

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