- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

Metro faces an investigation and fines after sanitation inspectors discovered illegal disposal of corrosive cleaning agents into the sewer system at the New Carrollton rail yard.

The investigation has prompted the closure of Metro train-washing facilities at the New Carrollton and Branch Avenue rail yards while the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission considers civil penalties, WSSC officials said.

Inspectors for the WSSC, which oversees water service and sewage treatment in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, found that Metro improperly disposed of chemicals used to wash trains, causing “corrosive structural damage” to sewer pipelines.

Since May, the WSSC has issued four violation notices against Metro for illegal discharge of pollutants and for conducting work on sewer pipes without a permit. The WSSC issued the most recent notice yesterday. The Environmental Protection Agency also investigated but found no significant damage to the environment, EPA spokesman Roy Seneca said.

However, WSSC inspectors say enough chemicals were funneled into the sewer system from Metro’s New Carrollton train wash facility to require the commission to repair or replace sewer pipelines.

Such leaks into the sewer system can pose serious risks, commission officials say. Acidic contaminants can interfere with bacteria used to treat sewage at treatment plants.

Though officials say there is no evidence this has happened, they are continuing to investigate how much illegal disposal occurred and when the activity took place.

“We have an active, ongoing investigation,” said WSSC spokesman Chuck Brown, adding that a dollar estimate of the damage was unavailable. “We are still trying to find out how far this corrosion goes. The corrosion to the piping was severe and affected its structural integrity.”

Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said the improper disposal happened because Metro workers believed that drain pipes at the wash facilities led to neutralizing stations, which treat the acid wastewater used in cleaning trains.

Miss Farbstein said Metro workers tried to repair the pipeline at the New Carrollton facility, believing it was owned by Metro. “It was an honest mistake,” she said.

“Since we learned of the problem, we’ve worked to correct it,” she said. “We’re working closely with the WSSC and cooperating with them.”

Miss Farbstein said Metro is checking its six other washing facilities to make sure that acid wastewater is treated properly and discharged at those locations.

“So far, so good,” Miss Farbstein said of the inspections at the other train-washing locations.

The New Carrollton washing facility has been closed since May, and the WSSC ordered the Branch Avenue train to stop operations last week.

Mr. Brown said the WSSC may seek damages from Metro. “We’re prepared to get an emergency resolution in place to make whatever repairs we need to, and we would expect to bill [Metro],” he said.

Miss Farbstein said Metro had planned to expand its New Carrollton rail yard before learning of the improper discharge. She said the project now will include replacement of any damaged WSSC pipes.

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