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Wastewater Treatment Plant Problem Prompts Olszewski To Call For County Oversight

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Maryland Environmental Services took temporary control over Baltimore City's wastewater treatment plant on March 27.

In a three-page statement on Friday, Maryland's Department of the Environment used the phrase "not raw sewage" five times in describing the results of samples collected last week.

That is encouraging news, and it comes amid strong odors and warnings that those odors will get worse with rain run-off and warmer weather.

The order from state environmental officials last month warned of the risk of "catastrophic failures" at the Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The city-run facility, located in Baltimore County, is now under temporary control by the state.

Baltimore City's Public Works says it's working with the state to get back in compliance and released a photo of clear water from the outfall on Thursday. 

But Maryland environment officials say a recent river sample showed the presence of non-living shelled amoeba prevalent in sewage treatment.

Officials are still investigating the origin of the non-living shelled amoeba.

"What I saw was very concerning," Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski said. "It was not the clear water that's supposed to be coming out of our treatment plants."

Olszewski said he toured the back river this weekend.

He announced a partnership to mitigate the midge infestation in recent years on Monday.

"We know the nutrient level from the plant is a direct contributor to the midge challenge here," Olszewski said.

One longtime Essex resident by the name of "Al" offered his services.

"Do they need a CDL driver?" Al said. "If they're gonna clean up, I can haul it right away. Just give me the truck."

Nearby residents have complained of the smell. 

The state says samples have not shown raw sewage and that the odor is similar to "nutrient rich, oxygen-depleted marsh mud."

Olszewski disputes that assessment.

"I saw—firsthand—sludge and other material coming out from the plant," he said.

The county has no oversight over the plant.

That's something Olszewski wants to change.

Additionally, Olszewski wants the county to conduct its own testing.

The state has announced that it will test upstream and downstream within the next two weeks.

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