The discovery of toxic chemicals has complicated the county's disposal of 100,000 gallons of sludge removed from two illegal sewage lagoons in Gambrills.

Laboratory tests show the sludge contains low levels of volatile organic chemicals and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), both more typically found in industrial rather than residential waste, said a Department of Utilities spokeswoman.

Heavy metals were also found.

Utilities officials are leery ofsending the tainted sludge through the Cox Creek Waste Water Treatment plant as originally planned, said spokeswoman Jody Vollmar.

Although the contamination is small, officials fear the chemicals could react with others already entering the treatment plant, Vollmar said.

The potential chemical reaction could produce a more hazardous sludge or even ruin the treatment plant by killing the bacteria and micro-organisms used to digest sewage.

A final decision will be made soon, Vollmar said.

If utilities officials decide against disposing the sludge at the treatment plant, the sludge could be dumped at a sanitary landfill, Vollmar said.

"It could be landfilled rather than treated," Vollmar said. "But it's already at the treatment plant. Both have their advantages and disadvantages."

A separate analysisof sludge samples by the Health Department found the volatile organic chemicals toluene and chlorobenzene. Toluene has been linked to birth defects and can damage the liver and kidneys.

However, Health Department spokeswoman Evelyn Stein said the levels were "below the maximum contamination level for drinking water."

The heavy metals were also found within allowable limits for sewage sludge, Stein said.

County inspectors discovered the two lagoons in May on a 45-acre Hog Farm Road property, owned by William Helsel, a West Virginia resident. Helsel told a Circuit Judge Bruce C. Williams that his brother, Howard, dug the lagoons as part of a septic tank cleaning business nearly 30 years ago.

A county contractor immediately removed the sludge, which has since been stored at the Cox Creek facility. The county hopes to recover the more than $20,000 it has spent on the clean upfrom Helsel.

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