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Bills Address Sewage Leaks, Water Testing in Montgomery County

A series of bills sponsored by Del. Tom Hucker, a Democrat who represents Takoma Park and Silver Spring, target the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission's handling of sewage leaks and water testing.

A state delegate from Montgomery County has drafted bills that would require the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission to notify elected officials and residents of leaks.

Del. Tom Hucker, a Democrat who represents Takoma Park and Silver Spring, said sewage leaks are an all-too-frequent problem in Montgomery County. He said how quickly they are cleaned up and whether the public knows to avoid the areas where leaks occur are major public health issues.

"If people aren't aware of that, they let their kids wade in the creek, they let their dogs play in the creek," Hucker said. "Even a drop of sewage can be very, very dangerous."

The WSSC regulates both ends of the water supply—drinking water and sewage—for customers in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties. Hucker said WSSC is only required to notify county health departments of sewage leaks.

If passed, MC/PG 114-13 would require the water company to post notices in places where the public might come into contact with contaminated water, places like Sligo Creek Park, a parking lot or a playground. 

A companion bill, MC/PG 115-13, would instruct WSSC to notify elected officials, including county executives and mayors, when there is a sewage leak.

Hucker said the legislation was suggested by Takoma Park City Council member Tim Male, who found out about a leak after the fact.

Hucker is also sponsoring a bill that would enact quarterly testing of the drinking water for contaminants using the most updated list of potential hazards supplied by the Environmental Protection Agency. The bill also requests that WSSC share the results of the tests with county health departments. 

"There are new industrial chemicals that come into use and get into our environment as industry starts to use them more frequently," Hucker said. "It's important that we should ask WSSC to test our drinking water."

A spokesperson for WSSC told Patch that the company has not yet taken a position on the bills. 

According to the commission’s website, WSSC tests water for different substances regularly, but the exact frequency depends on the particular contaminant. 

"For example, dozens of samples per day are tested for bacteria, but some rare exotic pesticides are monitored merely quarterly," the website states. Yearly tap analysis reports are available online

The Maryland General Assembly will reconvene Jan. 9 in Annapolis. Hucker said he hopes the bills will receive support from the other Montgomery County lawmakers. Some environmental groups, including Sierra Club and Friends of Sligo Creek, have already given the nod.

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