Lube Oil, 41,000 Gallons of Sewage Leak into the Jones Falls Over Weekend

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Still via Facebook/Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper

Baltimore’s Jones Falls and Inner Harbor took a beating this weekend and on Monday, with an underground sewage leak and a 50-gallon oil spill to boot.

Blue Water Baltimore’s water quality team spotted the oil spill Friday morning, according to a video posted to Facebook by the group’s harbor waterkeeper. The Maryland Department of the Environment, U.S. Coast Guard and Baltimore City Department of Public Works all worked to help identify or contain the spill at its source, according to the harborkeeper.

The Coast Guard said the spill was noticeable thanks to a “rainbow sheen” that appeared in the Inner Harbor near Pier Six. The substance was identified as lube oil. The military branch hired a contractor to contain and clean it at the original spill site near the 2100 block of Falls Road using a boom and “sorbent materials,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.

While the Coast Guard said the source had yet to be ID’d yesterday, a MDE spokesman said Tuesday morning that the spill was believed to be tied to a BGE substation near the site of the leak.

“We expect that BGE will take action to prevent the spill from continuing and to make any necessary repairs under Maryland Department of the Environment oversight,” said Jay Apperson, the agency’s deputy director of communications.

BGE spokesman Richard Yost said in a statement Tuesday that the company “immediately de-energized the underground power line, and reduced pressure of the mineral oil, which serves as a coolant on the line” after learning of the leak in order to inspect the underground transmission cable.

After a “full environmental remediation is completed” and the area is inspected thoroughly, the company will repair any identified leaks, Yost said. The utility doesn’t foresee any customer outages, traffic impacts or effects on the nearby light rail line, he added.

To add to all of this, DPW said yesterday that more than 41,000 gallons of sewage flowed out of a structured outfall into the Jones Falls near Greenmount West between Friday and Monday morning. Crews stopped that leak at around 11 a.m. yesterday using bypass pumps.

The cause hasn’t been identified, DPW said in a release. Such leaks usually happen after heavy rains, though we’ve had some recent exceptions, including one at the site of a Clipper Mill sewer line that had been severed and leaking for years, and 1.2 million gallons’ worth of discharges caused by the now-infamous 140-ton “fatberg.”

This story has been updated with comment from the Maryland Department of the Environment and BGE, and corrected to reflect that BGE will be repairing a transmission cable, rather than the entire substation.

Ethan McLeod
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