Someone pried a 100-pound manhole cover off a sewer line in South Carroll, broke it into pieces, then jammed it and other debris into the line, causing about 2 million gallons of raw sewage to overflow into a nearby tributary of Piney Run.
Carroll County health officials spent much of yesterday afternoon posting 200 signs two miles along the stream to the Patapsco River, advising swimmers and anglers to stay out of the water.
"To have the loss or the degradation of these very rare, pristine and naturally clean streams is just a terrible thing," said Richard McIntire, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Before the incident, the stream had been classified by the state as having among the highest water quality in Maryland. Yesterday, 200 yards downstream from the spill, environmental experts encountered chunks of gray matter, clumps of toilet paper and a lack of fish.
Drinking water was not affected. Carroll's Bureau of Utilities is offering a $1,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the vandals. Raw sewage poses a health threat to humans because it contains viruses and other pathogens carried by human waste, said Edwin F. Singer, Carroll's assistant director of environmental health. He expects his office will lift the health advisory within a few weeks. Carroll officials believe the spill occurred between May 7 and Monday.
The extent of the damage to the environment, near Sykesville, won't be determined for weeks. Environmental officials can't clean up the sewage. They are waiting for the stream to flush out the wastewater on its own and will continue testing the water to determine when aquatic life has returned to normal.
Anyone with tips or questions should call the Bureau of Utilities at 410-386-2164.