Chestertown has retained Funk & Bolton to stop the hospital from injecting Ivey-Sol®, a chemical detergent never before used in Maryland, into the groundwater. The injections are intended to liquefy the remains of a heating oil spill that has threatened the town’s water supply for 25 years.

UPDATED: Shortly after this story ran, Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Robert Summers assured Mayor Margo Bailey and Town Manager Bill Ingersoll by phone that the injections would be postponed until town officials approved the plan. Ingersoll and Michael V. Forlini of Funk & Bolton will meet with hospital officials on Monday to address any potential impact to the town’s drinking wells.

The decision to obtain legal counsel was in response to a letter to the Spy on Thursday when MDE said they would not grant a temporary stay of the injections. Town officials wanted to postpone the procedure until they could consult with MDE and the hospital’s contractor about the potential risks to the town’s drinking wells.

The procedure received approval from MDE on Oct. 17.

“…There is no stay at this time,” wrote MDE Deputy Communications Director Jay Apperson in an email to the Spy late Thursday. “This pilot plan is an important step toward the long-term protection of the Town’s drinking water supply.”

“[The Ivey-sol®] will be injected into the shallow water table approximately 30 feet below ground surface. The well depths for the active Town supply wells range from 63 to 430 feet below ground surface,” Apperson wrote. “The Department does not think that the injected surfactant or any liberated contaminants will have the opportunity to impact the active drinking water supply wells.”

Chestertown Utilities Manager Bob Sipes told the Spy on Friday that the town’s shallow wells actually start drawing at 40 feet. He said that liquefied heating oil at 30 feet could easily mix with groundwater at 40 feet. He expressed worry that the hospital has offered no contingency plan if the experiment fails and causes oil to migrate closer towards the town’s drinking well field.

Sipes said that Apperson’s statement was the first he’d heard of any specifics about the plan to use Ivey-sol® and that MDE nor the manufacturer would provide any information about the chemical components because it is patented.

Town officials believe the plan has little to do with public safety and is yet another attempt by Shore Regional Health to rid themselves of the $50,000 annual expense to contain the heating oil spill at the site.  The containment system consists of a series of pumps and recovery wells.

The containment system was successful for two decades until it was turned off with approval from MDE last July. As result of the shutdown, oil migrated closer than ever to the town’s drinking wells and the containment system had to be reactivated this May.

The town’s drinking wells are just 1,500 feet downrange from the contamination site.

In the summer of 2011 the hospital tried injecting CO2 into the groundwater to grow bacteria that would breakdown the oil – but town officials didn’t learn about it until almost a year later – and it didn’t work.

In each case, town officials say they were not informed by MDE or the hospital until the final decisions were made.

The procedure using Ivey-sol® has never been performed in Maryland, according to Apperson, and neither MDE or the hospital could cite success in a similar case where the procedure took place so close to a municipality’s drinking water supply.

Apperson said the procedure would be monitored with an MDE official on site.

“During the entire pilot test injection period, the monitoring wells that are down-gradient — in other words, between the activity site and the Town’s drinking water well field — will be monitored, and the groundwater extraction system will be available for immediate restart if needed,” Apperson wrote.