Shore Regional Health recently won approval from Maryland Department of the Environment to install pipes that would allow unfiltered groundwater from a major heating oil spill at the hospital to discharge into the town’s stormwater system and into the Chester River.
Currently, contaminated water is captured by a pump and treat system and is run through a series of filters before it can be released into the Chester River, but Shore Health’s new consulting firm, Gannett Flemming, said the water may be safe enough to be discharged untreated.
“It is possible that the MYCELX filters are no longer required to meet groundwater discharge criteria and can be bypassed,” the firm said in a letter to MDE’s oil control plan. “If that’s the case, we would request separate approval from MDE before bypassing the filters.”
The Kent Pilot sought comment from MDE regarding what standards would be permitted to measure whether the water is safe to discharge into the Chester — without using the filtration system that has been in place for many years.
Recently, MDE gave Shore Health approval to change the water testing methods in order to meet compliance with a 2016 consent order agreement between Shore Health and MDE. But Chestertown Utilities Manager Bob Sipes and a former MDE regulator with expert knowledge of the spill said the new test doesn’t fully measure the contaminants in the ground and artificially lowers the test results.
The results of the new testing method over time could clear the way for MDE to approve a permanent shutdown of a containment system that for three decades has kept an estimated 80,000 gallons of heating oil from migrating offsite and downhill to the town’s drinking water plant.
It is not known whether the new testing method approved for determining a shutdown of the containment system would also be applied to the Shore Health’s permit to discharge unfiltered water into the Chester.
The issue of the new testing method will be taken up with Shore Health and Gannet Flemming at the Zoom meeting of the Town Council on Nov. 9.