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Baltimore County sewage spill from Sandy belatedly detected

A broken sewer line in Catonsville that went undetected for three weeks after the storm called Sandy passed through the area poured nearly 1.3 million gallons of raw waste into a tributary of the Patapsco River, Baltimore County officials reported Wednesday.

County workers discovered the spill Tuesday on the grounds of Spring Grove Hospital Center after a neighboring resident complained about sewage odors to the Maryland Department of the Environment, which relayed the information, according to David Fidler, spokesman for the county's Department of Public Works.

A tree that officials believe was uprooted by Sandy broke the 8-inch sewer line, Fidler said, and it apparently escaped notice after the Oct. 30 storm because the rupture occurred in a wooded portion of the state psychiatric facility's 200-acre campus, between Walnut Circle and Birch Drive.

"How bad was it if no one noticed it for that long?" the spokesman asked.

A utility crew installed a temporary bypass around the broken pipe Tuesday night, Fidler said. Until then, officials estimate that the break had been spilling about 60,000 gallons of sewage a day into the West Branch of Herbert Run, which flows into the Patapsco.

Utility workers walking downstream after fixing the break found traces of sewage as far away as Wilkens Avenue, Fidler said.

No health advisory had been issued for Herbert Run or the Patapsco because the county health department only learned of the spill Wednesday and had yet to sample for potentially disease-causing bacteria, spokeswoman Monique Lyle said. Until test results are obtained, she recommended that residents avoid contact with Herbert Run and with the Patapsco downriver from where the creek joins it.

This was Baltimore County's second significant sewage spill caused by Sandy. Utility crews reported 951,000 gallons of raw waste poured into Red House Run on Oct. 31 near its confluence with Moores Run in Rosedale. In that case, a joint in a 36-inch force main apparently separated during the storm.

Statewide, municipal and county utility agencies reported about two dozen sewage overflows or pipe breaks that were blamed on the heavy rains and high winds of Sandy. The largest was in Howard County, where officials reported 20 million to 25 million gallons of rain-diluted wastewater spilled into the Little Patuxent River after toppled trees took out power to a treatment plant. Next largest was a 2 million-gallon overflow into Conococheague Creek in Williamsport in Washington County.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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