Mayor and Council, 2020, Town Agendas & Minutes|



NOVEMBER 20, 2020

Mayor Cerino called the Zoom meeting to order at 11:00 a.m. In attendance on behalf of the Town were Council Members David Foster, Thomas Herz, Ellsworth Tolliver and Meghan Efland, W. S. Ingersoll (Town Manager), Robert Sipes (Utilities Manager) and Jennifer Mulligan (Town Clerk), along with Michael Forlini, Esq. (Chestertown’s environmental attorney). Representatives from Maryland Department of the Environment were Chris Rahlston, Drew Miller, Susan Bull, Lindley Campbell and Julie Kuspa, Esq. (Assistant Attorney General) and from the UMMS Shore Regional Hospital were Ken Kozel, Michael Powell, Esq. and members of the consulting firm Gannett Fleming were Ken Guttman and Rob Scrafford.

Mayor Cerino presented a 33 year overall timeline of the Hospital oil spill to provide a historical perspective. He said that the Town was ordered to shut down well 8 many years ago and never received monetary compensation, nor did it receive a replacement well. Mayor Cerino stated that since 2018 things had been comparatively quiet until the Town was notified that the pump and treat system had been shut off at the Hospital for an extended period and both the Town and MDE had not been notified. He said that prior to the unauthorized shutdown, MDE had authorized a year-long trial shutdown (2011-12) where the pump and treat system would be on stand-by and the wells would be monitored to see if there was any detectable movement from the remaining plume. The Town was not made aware of that shutdown at the time as well. He said that after the unauthorized shutdown took place, MDE put the trial shutdown on hold. In the interim, the Hospital brought in a new remediation team, Gannet Fleming.

Mayor Cerino stated that the unauthorized shut down of the pump and treat system raised alarm bells for the Town as they already lost one well and could not afford to have anything like that take place again. Mr. Sipes stated that the Town was also not notified about the carbon dioxide injections which were done after UMMS took over the Hospital in their first process of on-site remediation. Mayor Cerino stated that there was spotty history of transparency and communication with the Town, leaving it in the position where constant advocation on their own behalf was necessary to know what was happening, when it should be coming directly to the Town from both MDE and the Hospital.

Mr. Kozel stated that the Hospital shares the concerns of the Town and appreciates the fact that they are all in this together. He said that there are team members from the Hospital that live and work in Chestertown and Kent County who are affected by the spill. He said that the Hospital commits to working together. Concerning the most recent shut down, he said that he was not aware that it occurred although their consultants were aware, but there was no communication between them. He said that once the information was discovered immediate action was taken, which ultimately resulted in replacing the consultants. He said that today they would introduce their new consultant team and share what has been done since then, what they have learned, and how they will mitigate the spill moving forward.

Mr. Kozel stated that the Hospital has been in contact with MDE regarding their failure to notify them of the pump and treat downtime and through those communications MDE has provided them with a fine and corrective actions to take. He said that Shore Regional Health has paid the fine imposed by MDE and they would work through corrective actions to MDE’s satisfaction. Mr. Kozel stated that transparency was important to the Hospital and all the information that has been put together up to and including what was shared today will be available to the Town and the community for their review. He said that he hoped to strengthen the relationships moving forward.

Mr. Guttman of Gannett Fleming provided and in-depth presentation of the findings on site. He said that their first goal was to confirm that the site is compliant with all relevant agreements, permits and regulations and showed a detailed compliance matrix sheet.

Mr. Guttman stated that the composition of the oil has changed over the years because of remediation and natural attenuation, which was nature’s way of breaking down the oil in the ground.

Mr. Guttman stated that a detailed analysis was done to see how the remediation system could be optimized. He said that there were six (6) wells collectively pumping approximately 70-gallons per minute creating a broad capture zone. He said that auto dialers were installed to those wells and whenever there is an alarm condition a detailed process is followed that was developed with MDE and Hospital. He said that since they took over operation of the system in September there have not been any unexpected system shutdowns. He said that the auto dialer system was checked five (5) times a week to ensure that it was still functioning. Stand-by pumps have been purchased in the event of any pump failure. They grow and collect influent data from each recovery well, which allows for more robust analysis of how the system is operating.

Mr. Guttman stated that the data from the system shows that a miniscule mass of hydrocarbon is being collected at this time and said that, in his opinion, the system is ready for a pilot shut-down. He showed mapping of the plume and capture zones showing how the containment system has been capturing the plume in the past.

Mr. Guttman stated that there were individual sample ports on each incoming recovery well, of which there were six (6) in total. He showed the data collection which provided flow rate and detects in parts per million. He said that the calculations on how much heating oil the system is recovered is based on that data and the collection is 0.2-0.34 gallons per month. He said that for a system pumping 70-gallons per minute, 24-hours per day, 7-days per week, this amounted to approximately 1-quart of oil per month.

Mr. Guttman showed groundwater collection data. He said that they needed to verify that there were no exposure pathways or risks and said that they did not find any. He said that thirty-seven (37) of the fifty-five (55) wells analyzed were non-detect. He said that eighteen (18) of the fifty-five (55) had dissolved TPHDRO, nine (9) of which showed only 1-parts per million without the silica gel testing (which was a very low dilute). The other half were in the parts per million range, which was less than 1 parts per million. He said that when the silica gel was applied none of the wells were above 1 part per million. This told them that the dissolved TPHDRO biodegradation is occurring and is reducing the plume, which was to be expected after 30-years. Mr. Guttman stated that different dates in time were chosen to go back in history to compare the TPHDRO numbers and he showed a chart with the findings.

Mr. Guttman stated that a concern was raised about a paleo-channel existing from the plume to the Town well and after studying the site and testing their theories found no evidence that a paleo-channel exists in the Aquia aquifer. He outlined how they did their testing for a paleo-channel. Mr. Guttman stated that there are concerns that any remaining oil on site will mobilize toward the Town wells. He said that this was also studied in-depth and there was no evidence to support that is a valid concern given the residual saturation levels of oil remaining in the soil.

Mr. Guttman stated that in the last 10-years, only five (5) monitoring wells out of fifty-five (55) have exhibited LPH (Liquid Phase Hydrocarbon) and he showed a chart that had the figures leveling out to next to nothing. Mr. Guttman stated that 84,000 gallons of oil was removed by pumping it out and additional volume was removed using the surfactant. He said that it is his opinion that the LPH is at residual saturation. He said that the recovery wells have barely detected LPH in the pumping wells and it was not detected in any of the monitoring wells. He said that the LPH recovery has reached the point where it should be turned off, adding that it was apparently not migrating and posed no risk to the Town wells.

Mr. Guttman stated that the silica gel clean-up was a legitimate lab method, approved by the EPA, and up to each State as to whether they use it. MDE did allow use of it at this site, but it was his understanding that it was used for extra information in addition to the THPDRO data. He said that the testing showed that biodegradation was occurring in the groundwater.

Mr. Guttman stated that progressive remediation techniques have been used on this site for many years, which have been successful. He said that the current system is recovering minimal petroleum hydrocarbons in a very dilute plume, which is shrinking. There is no evidence of a paleo-channel or mobile LPH. He said the residual LPH is immobile and poses no threats to the Town wells. He also stated that the TPHDRO and silica gel test results both suggest that there was biodegradation in the well water, which was good news.

Mayor Cerino noted that Mr. Guttman’s presentation pointed out that pumping can be expected to remove 50% of the product out of the ground and that 84,000 gallons have been recovered with the pumps. He asked if there was 84,000 gallons left in an immobile state on the ground. Mr. Guttman stated that there is not 84,000 gallons of oil left in the ground as the surfactant injection recovered some product (based on the groundwater data). Mr. Sipes stated that there was no visible oil removed with the surfactant and the Town never received a calculation where they determined how many gallons were removed using Ivy-Sol.

Mayor Cerino stated that this has been a stumbling block because they know that 84,000 gallons came out of the ground, but if there were 84,000 gallons still in the ground they cannot be comfortable with the pump and treat system turned off. He said that he does not think there was a way to determine how much oil is still in the ground.

Mr. Guttman stated that the groundwater data from after the surfactant shows that oil was removed but he did not know the quantity. He said that he thought Mr. Ivey would be able to gauge that number, but it would be an estimate. Mr. Guttman stated that from the minute the oil hits the ground the natural forces of dissolution and absorption begin to occur, and the oil has been dissolving for 30-years. Mayor Cerino asked what the shelf life was on oil. Mr. Guttman stated that in the oil recovery field it was found that you can pump out about 50% but what remains behind is not a volume issue, it is a risk issue. He said that the expectation was that oil continue to be removed until there was an acceptable level, the risk was gone, and migration has ended with the oil not going anywhere. He said that they were looking for residual saturation levels and that they know that the oil is there, but it is 30’ to 40’ in the ground, nobody was touching, it and it was not moving.

Mayor Cerino stated that the Hospital clearly wants to stop having to pay for the remediation, but the Town needed to know how immobile the oil was, when they really did not even know how much residual product was in the soil.

Mr. Rahlston stated that the concern was well-founded, but the dissolve phase concentrations do not show residual significant product anywhere near the neighborhood of 84,000 gallons. He said that several soil borings were performed in 2016, specifically to look for pockets of unassessed subsurface soils and groundwater to offer additional information as to whether there was additional residual oil that was undiagnosed. The study showed that there was nothing of consequence. He said that there were minor detections in one area in the soil, but it was not shown in the groundwater sampling. He said that there were ways to collect soil samples to measure for residual oil where specific calculations can be run to measure directly the residual oil concentration and that was something that could be discussed with the Hospital. He said that the reality of this was that there was 30-years of data, pump and treat, extraction of oil and subsequent remediation technologies, and he felt as though they had enough data to conclude what was necessary but said that he was willing to explore this avenue with the Hospital.

Mr. Herz stated that Mr. Foster was having audio difficulties where he cannot speak and said that he will communicate questions for him. Mr. Foster said that a previous consultant insisted that 99% of the oil was removed and asked how that can be true.   Mr. Rahlston stated that he cannot speak to what others have said. Mr. Kozel stated that he was not sure which consultant uttered that remark or the basis for that percentage. He said that there were things presented by previous consultants that MDE did not agree with and that may be one of those statistics.

Mr. Herz stated that he was still confused by the silica gel technology. He said that what he was hearing was that in terms of standards for clean-up, they were using silica gel for testing purposes for additional information in their diagnosis, but not for the actual clean-up. Mr. Guttman stated that from a technical perspective, the silica gel was useful as it removed polar compounds and helped them see what else was in the ground by showing a broad swath from a regulatory perspective. He said that there were chemicals other than petroleum hydrocarbons in the soil.

Mayor Cerino stated that levels were shown before and after the surfactant was used in the monitoring wells. He said that significant spikes were shown from 2011-2013, which was after the period of time that the pump and treat was shut down (2011). He said that the system was turned back on because there was oil showing in the monitoring wells at that time. Therefore, when the flow is artificially stopped he was concerned there would be a similar spike. Mr. Guttman stated that the amount of detection was less than half-inch, which they consider to be a minimum amount, and likely happened because oil was hung up or trapped in the filter pack near the well and drained due to the cone of depression disappearing. Mayor Cerino stated that is a problem if it gets into the drinking wells. Mr. Guttman stated that the drinking wells were hundreds of feet away from the monitoring wells. Mr. Ingersoll stated that the connection of why the oil reappeared in wells after the 2011-2012 shutdown was not made in the slide presentation and that was disturbing to him as it seemed an apparent reason why those spikes of free product occurred. He asked that the charts for those years be put up again so the large spike could be viewed in context.

Mr. Guttman stated that what he was trying to show was that there was no product coming into the monitoring wells and has not been for some time. Mr. Sipes stated that there was measurable thickness (.4’) in a recovery well in December 2018. Mr. Rahlston stated that the 2018 detection was a surface spill as noted in documentation from Ms. Bull. Ms. Bull stated that she would review her data.

Mr. Herz stated that Mr. Foster asked if silica gel methodology has been used for decisions regarding stopping pump and treat systems anywhere else in Maryland. Mr. Rahlston stated that the TPHDRO 1 part per million requirement was put together specifically for this remediation case. He said that 1 part per million is a general threshold that is not applied universally in Maryland. He said that all available data is reviewed to see whether it was an appropriate time to turn it off. He said that they did expect there would be rebound, which was what Mayor Cerino pointed out in the charts. He said that all associated data with a remediation system, surrounding monitoring wells, capture zones, and other factors are reviewed before deciding to turn off a system. He said that there was a settlement agreement between the State and the Hospital calling out a threshold of 1 part per million which was proposed by the Hospital. He said that was not a measure to determine if it was okay to turn off a system.

Mr. Rahlston stated that MDE deemed it was an appropriate time to allow a trial shutdown in a controlled and measured way. He said that the Hospital was not permitted to ask the State to shutdown the system until the threshold of 1-part per million was met and then to evaluate all data, not only TPHDRO, before making a decision to allow a trial shut down.

Mr. Rahlston stated that some of the questions raised by Mr. Foster have been answered in a written submittal to the Mayor and Council, and it was on the MDE website. He said that silica gel has been proposed for other cases in the State of Maryland but was not something that they have decided to use as there was a cost associated with it. The decision points for the other cases was that the use of silica gel was deemed unnecessary for its use as a data collection tool. He said that this is the only case he was aware of that silica gel was actively used in a consistent manner. Mr. Rahlston stated that to distinguish cases, the other cases presented to use silica gel were more extensive remediation in the sense that there was higher concentration in the ground, not low level as was the issue at the Hospital site.

Mayor Cerino asked what would happen in the future. He said that word was received that a year-long trial shutdown period would take place and then there was an unauthorized shut down and said that the repercussions of the unauthorized shut down were ongoing. Mayor Cerino also asked if the pump and treat system was currently in operation.

Mr. Rahlston stated that the pump and treat system is operating and said that a letter was sent to the Hospital on September 9, 2020 requesting that they begin to collect natural attenuation parameters. He said that the data is showing that there is natural attenuation occurring, however, there are better and more direct measurements that the Hospital has just begun to collect. He said at least two rounds of samplings were requested quarterly, the first taking place in October. That data will be compiled and disseminated to MDE and the Town for review which will help them decide how to proceed. The factors of deterioration and microbes consuming the residual product will be analyzed at that time. Mr. Rahlston stated that if there was a decision to turn off the pump and treat system it would not be authorized until sometime in the spring of 2021, as a trial, with the time period of the shutdown determined at that time.

Mayor Cerino stated that in a nutshell he was hearing that the pump and treat system was turned on and the earliest a trial shutdown would occur would be in the spring, with a decision still to come as to the length of the trial. He said that he also understood that the pump and treat system would be online and ready to be turned back on at a moment’s notice if there was a rebound. Mr. Rahlston stated that was correct, adding that the improvements made to the system with extra pumps on hand will further ensure that the pump and treat system is at the ready.

Rev. Tolliver asked if the residual product becomes immobile and broken down by the natural process, was there any byproduct left by the breakdown. Mr. Guttman stated that there was a byproduct, which was a conversion to less toxic chemicals called mineralization (carbon dioxide). He said that eventually those compounds follow a chain of reaction that make it disappear. Rev. Tolliver asked how long it takes from being toxic in the breakdown to non-toxic. Mr. Guttman stated that was part of the study they were reviewing right now in the collection of the natural attenuation parameters. He said that they just received the first sampling, and another sample would be collected in the first quarter of the new year to analyze the degradation process. Mr. Guttman stated that science was not so precise that he could say just how long it would take to disappear completely.

Rev. Tolliver asked if the change in the nature of the product then contaminates the Town’s wells, would the agreement be nullified due to the oil becoming a byproduct. Mr. Powell stated that the agreement has a trigger that if oil is found in sentinel well the Hospital has an obligation to correct that. He said the intent of the agreement is to protect the wells from anything that comes from the Hospital and if they found anything impacting the sentinel wells, the obligation is triggered. Mr. Powell stated that it appears that the professional opinion from MDE is that this spill is never going to spread beyond the hospital parking lot, but that will be tested. If a less toxic version of the oil is found, the agreement obligates the Hospital to protect the Town wells.

Rev. Tolliver stated that a school is right down the street from the Hospital and asked if damages would be covered if children were harmed because of the oil spill. Mr. Powell stated that the agreement was designed specifically for the Town wells, but that did not mean that the Hospital did not have responsibilities for other issues. Independent of the agreement, the Hospital is responsible if this causes harm to anyone.

Rev. Tolliver asked if the drinking water in Chestertown was going to be safe. Mr. Guttman stated that from what he has seen in the data, there is no risk to the Town wells from the Hospital site.

Mr. Sipes stated that he thought the natural attenuation would be limited because of the free oxygen available. He asked if the unexpected shutdown happened to all six (6) wells at the same time. Mr. Guttman stated that there are pumps in all the wells and then those wells have piping that goes to a main tank inside the remediation compound. The pump in that tank pumps the water through the Mycelex treatment system and out to the storm drain and this was the pump that failed, which stopped pumping at all the wells. He said that because this occurred during a pandemic it took additional time to get a new pump on site.

Mr. Sipes asked if there were now replacement pumps on site for all the pumps. Mr. Guttman stated that there are backup pumps for all wells, but there is not a standby for the new main wet well pump, but it is closely monitored and tested. Mr. Sipes stated that there was a possibility of the same failure happening if there was a failure and a new pump had to be brought in. Mr. Guttman stated that if their client agreed, they would purchase a new pump right now. Mr. Kozel agreed to the purchase of a back-up pump for the main wet well. Mr. Sipes stated that if one well pump went down the entire system does not fail, where the one that did fail shut the entire system down.

Mr. Sipes asked if the figures on THPDRO discharge shown in the presentation were with or without silica gel. Mr. Guttman stated that the figures presented were without silica gel.

Mr. Sipes stated that when the paleo-channel was studied did it include borings inside the suspected paleo-channel. Mr. Guttman stated that borings were not performed, there was examination of soil boring logs available which had been taken over the years. Mr. Sipes stated that there is a suspected paleo-channel and expected that there would be borings taken from that area. Mr. Guttman stated that their goal was to verify that there was no preferential pathway from this site to the Town wells. He said that they did not look offsite, only at the plume.

Mr. Sipes asked if there were records of soil borings or sampling ever done directly under the Hospital to determine whether there were liquid phase hydrocarbons there. Mr. Guttman stated that he did not know the answer to that question. Mr. Sipes asked if the answer could be emailed to him.

Mr. Sipes stated that the difference between the silica gel cleanup from what he understands is that it is a very useful tool in determining to what degree you have attenuation or degradation. What he did not understand was why it would be used in a drinking water aquifer for anything other than determining attenuation or degradation. He said that the total petroleum hydrocarbons are measured and run through silica gel (of which there are many kinds) as it changes the true readings of product. He said that running the test through silica gel to zero out the test does not mean that the product is not in the ground.  He asked if the silica gel was being used for compliance of groundwater cleanup standards. Mr. Guttman stated that 5 milligrams per liter, as an example, which was run with silica gel may come back as 2 milligrams per liter of petroleum, which tells them that the other 3 milligrams per liter are not petroleum hydrocarbons, which in this case are the byproduct or breakdown product of the petroleum hydrocarbons.

Mr. Sipes asked why that does not appear in other wells. Mr. Guttman stated that the numbers are all breakdowns of the TPH and there are other compounds in the ground from naturally occurring organics they show up in the results as well. He said that his data shows him that on this site the hydrocarbons are turning into lesser toxic, lower chain compounds. Mr. Sipes stated that the TPH is a known number and a test that has been used for over 40-years to measure petroleum hydrocarbons and it was now being filtered through the silica gel testing. They were telling him it was not related to the contamination site without verifying that by running the same tests on uncontaminated portions of the same aquifer. He said that those additional test sites would tell them if the contamination was in the aquifer or only related to the contamination site.

Mr. Rahlston stated that Mr. Sipes was correct and other wells could be tested but TPHDRO has been run on the other wells and there is no TPHDRO in them. He said that what is being filtered out by the silica gel is related to the oil but what it is showing is the breakdown products of the oil being consumed by bacteria in the subsurface. There is biodegradation occurring on site and they were now collecting individual samples to see to what degree natural attenuation is occurring. He said that what is being filtered out is an indication that it is a result of the heating oil that has been transformed.

Mr. Forlini stated that when he spoke with the EPA about this issue, it was expressed that there is a documented concern regarding the loss of petroleum hydrocarbons with silica gel method. He asked if they were implying that there were petroleum hydrocarbons in the silica gel method being discarded or removed from the sample. Mr. Rahlston stated that what he was saying that after running through the routine standards of the sample for TPHDRO it is then run through silica gel and the liquid analyzed shows metabolites of the TPHDRO, or its organic compounds. He said that in discussions with the lab running the samples that upwards of 20% could be petroleum hydrocarbons which was consistent with Mr. Forlini’ s reading of the EPA paper. He said that extracted organic compounds could be several different things, including background organic matter, but he did not think that was the case on this site. He said that what was being extracted in this instance was matter related to the oil spill. There is not naturally occurring TPHDRO in this area and the other compounds being extracted are no longer in the form of petroleum hydrocarbons, they show as degrading matter from petroleum hydrocarbons.

Mr. Rahlston stated that the data is showing that it is appropriate to turn the pump and treat system off in a carefully measured with additional data being collected throughout a shut off period. He said that there is no interest in seeing anything from this site showing up in the Town’s wells.

Mr. Powell stated that the decision to turn off the pump and treat was not going to be made based on the findings of the silica gel tests. He said that the silica gel test was an additional information point, not a substitute for any other testing or data.

Mr. Herz asked if the oil degradation was being tested on site or was it a supposition on the part of those looking at the data. Mr. Guttman stated that when they reviewed the silica gel testing data they realized that degradation was taking place on site. He said that in October there was a good amount of sampling collected and other chemicals used in a completely different but related study about biodegradation and natural attenuation process which looked deeper into what type of bacteria is eating the product and the actual degradation process now occurring. He said that by this time next month there should be a better conclusion of what was happening onsite.

Mr. Herz stated that regardless of how non-toxic the chemicals are, it is the expectation that the Hospital is responsible for all distillates of the heating oil that comes from that site. Mr. Miller stated that was correct and said that the Hospital’s focus was to make sure that all degradation takes place before anything goes offsite.

Mayor Cerino asked if the consent agreement has been changed. Mr. Ingersoll stated that there was an email that intimated that there had been a recent change of the agreement. Mr. Rahlston stated that there have been no changes to the agreement. Mr. Ingersoll asked if there were anticipated changes to the agreement. Mr. Rahlston stated that MDE was not anticipating making any changes to the agreement.

Mr. Ingersoll stated that there was a hit for acetone in one of the sentinel wells. Mayor Cerino asked if this was a byproduct of the surfactant. Mr. Sipes stated that he has not detected acetone in any of his VOC monitoring and he did not remember this ever on site before. He said he was concerned that it came from the Ivey-Sol breaking down in the oil or in the natural attenuation process now releasing byproducts.

Mayor Cerino closed the meeting and 1:00 p.m. and thanked everyone for attending.  He said that additional questions or concerns can be discussed via email. He said that he hoped this was the beginning of a solid line of open communication moving forward.

Submitted by:                                                             Approved by:

Jennifer Mulligan                                                       Chris Cerino

Town Clerk                                                                 Mayor

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