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Wyman Park stream turns colors in hunt for sewage leak

Water PollutionEnvironmental Pollution

A stream flowing through Wyman Park turned bright pink, then lime green Thursday as city crews attempted to pinpoint with dye a break in a sewage pipe that officials estimate has spilled tens of thousands of gallons of untreated human waste into the tributary of the Jones Falls.

The Public Works Department sent crews to check out Stony Run near 39th Street shortly after a suspected sewage leak was reported about 10:30 a.m., said department spokesman Kurt Kocher. As part of their investigation, they put a red dye into the sewer line to help them spot the leak.

"They basically use dye all the time to look for leaks," Kocher said. "They were sort of taken by surprise by the amount that came out, which indicates a break in the pipe. Otherwise you wouldn't see this much."

City crews believed sewage was leaking into the stream from a break in the bottom of an 8-inch diameter pipe, the spokesman said.

By Thursday evening, contractors had halted the leak with a temporary bypass around the suspected rupture, Kocher said. Earlier, though, he said sewage was "coming out of there at a pretty good pace," which he estimated to be 50 to 100 gallons per minute. Before it was stopped, the total spilled could easily have reached 40,000 to 50,000 gallons, he acknowledged.

The city finished nearly two years ago replacing aging sewer lines along Stony Run, at a cost of more than $40 million, part of a $1 billion-plus overhaul of the city's antiquated sewer system intended to curtail chronic leaks and overflows of waste into the city's streams and the harbor. Kocher could not say late Thursday whether the line believed to be leaking had been replaced, refurbished or at least checked during that project.

The Maryland Department of the Environment and city health department have been notified and signs have been posted along the affected stretch of stream warning the public against contact with the water, Kocher said.

Monica Lopossay, an area resident and former Baltimore Sun staff photographer, said she noticed the stream running pink Thursday morning as she jogged along its western bank south of University Parkway. By midafternoon, it had turned bright green, she said.

"On Tuesday when we were running past it, it was, like, seriously white and murky looking,'' she said. "It almost always smells like sewage,'' she added, but this week the odor was particularly strong.

Kocher said the city usually tries to notify the public when dye testing is to be done so residents won't be upset seeing brightly colored fluid in storm drains or streams. But in this case, he said, there wasn't time to issue a notice.

The dye is not toxic, according to the department, and has no effect on people or aquatic life "at the very low concentrations in use."

Repairs on the line are scheduled to begin Friday, Kocher said.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Larry Perl contributed to this report.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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