- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2001

The Army Corps of Engineers twice discharged four times the legal limit of chlorine into a pristine national park stream in Maryland, according to documents obtained by The Washington Times.

While the discharges of chlorinated water violate state law, they do not violate the Corps' discharge permit issued by the Maryland Department of the Environment, a spokesman said.

"Since this was brought to our attention, we have reminded them state law calls for less than 0.1 parts per million," Richard McIntire, environment department spokes-man, said Tuesday.

Mr. McIntire said the permit is "vague" in terms of allowable discharges. It is now under review by state officials after they were informed of the chlorine discharges by The Washington Times.

"Of course, it's a concern and recognized as a problem, and we will work to try and address it," Mr. McIntire said.

The Corps has repeatedly denied in interviews and in a letter to the editor that chlorine, which is toxic to fish, exists in the material it regularly dumps into area waterways.

"Our solids contain no human or industrial wastes, nor do they contain chlorine or chloramine," Col. Charles J. Fiala Jr., district engineer, said in an Aug. 31 letter to The Times.

However, tests performed by the Washington Aqueduct — the public water-supply agency for the District of Columbia and parts of Northern Virginia that is owned and operated by the Corps of Engineers — revealed otherwise. On Aug. 11, early morning testings showed chlorine levels as high as 0.54 milligrams per liter — five times Maryland's legal standard — flowing into Little Falls Branch in Montgomery County. An Aug. 18 reading showed chlorine at 0.45 milligrams per liter in the creek.

Tom Jacobus, chief of the Washington Aqueduct, said a failed pump both weekends resulted in thousands of gallons of treated water per minute discharging into the creek. He said chemicals to neutralize the chlorine were soon added.

Little Falls Branch, which runs through the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historic Park and into the Potomac River, is nicknamed "stinky creek" by area fishermen who, along with a National Park Police officer, have reported overpowering chlorine odors in the creek for years.

A 1999 report filed by the park officer noted there was a "strong smell of chlorine" as far as 50 feet from the creek.

"There are days in the summertime when the chlorine smell is so overwhelming you would think someone is changing the water in their swimming poll as you pass by Little Falls Branch," said Gordon Leisch, a retired biologist for the Interior Department's office of environmental policy and compliance and a longtime area fisherman.

Rob Gordon, executive director of the National Wilderness Institute, said August was not the first time chlorine was included in discharges.

"Police have smelled it, fishermen have smelled it, there is no way this was a one-time occurrence," Mr. Gordon said. "This is a continuing poisoning of Little Falls Branch, which has left the creek devoid of life at the discharge point."

Mr. Jacobus said Aug. 31 that top officials at the Corps receive no reports of high chlorine content in the discharges.

"It was not reported to me or the chief of operations that there was any large chlorine readings that would draw attention for us to make a report," Mr. Jacobus said. "We don't believe there was a violation on that day to be reported, and I think we were in compliance based on the permit."

However, the data in the documentation showing chlorine above the legal standard were confirmed by the Corps.

The data show the first reading Aug. 11 took place at 6:30 a.m. with a chlorine level of 0.45 milligrams per liter. After a dechlorinating agent was added at 6:35 a.m., the level dropped to 0.02 milligrams per liter. Nearly an hour later, however, a reading showed the chlorine level again rose to 0.27 milligrams per liter and within 15 minutes jumped to 0.54 milligrams per liter — five times the legal limit.

On Aug. 18, the morning reading again showed 0.45 milligrams per liter, then dropped to legal limits in testings conducted until noon.

Mr. Jacobus said the treated water "does contain chlorine," but that the "effect is negligible" once it enters the Potomac River.

The EPA requires discharged water to be dechlorinated because of the damage it inflicts on aquatic life.

"The purpose of chlorine is to kill things," said Alan Moghissi, retired EPA principal adviser for radiation and hazardous materials.

"You either have a law and abide by it, or you don't. Four or five times the limit is a little excessive," he said.


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