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Prince George's County health officials are warning residents to avoid all contact with water in the Northeast Branch of the Anacostia River. A blocked pipe leaked more than 10,000 gallons of raw sewage into a storm drain that empties into the waterway just yards from Riverdale Elementary School.
"Our main concern is that people not ingest any pathogens that may be in the water," said Don Nork, the county's director of environmental health. Fishing is also off-limits.
The blocked pipe belongs to the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission and is about one mile east of the river in the wooded median of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
The pipe appears to have leaked into a creek that connects to an open concrete culvert that runs through a series of residential neighborhoods before reaching the Anacostia.
WSSC spokeswoman Liz Kalinowski said the utility's workers completed repairs Tuesday.
A resident reported a suspicious odor in the neighborhood, but government and utility officials said they were unsure how long the pipe had been leaking.
A health department investigator concluded that the odor may have been caused by a leaking manhole cover on one of the WSSC's sewage pipes, Nork said. He said the utility then fixed the problem.
However, the WSSC's Kalinowski disputed that account, saying that WSSC workers were unable to find any manhole leaks or any other causes for the odor in September.
On Oct. 20, the resident called again to report the odor.
On Monday, the county's health department traced the leak to the blocked 8-inch-diameter pipe in the median. WSSC workers sent to fix the pipe Monday afternoon found an accumulation of grease, which they cleaned out. Returning on Tuesday, they found the pipe had been blocked by grease again and repaired it, Kalinowski said.
The WSSC will install a remote camera in the pipe today to alert it to any further blockages.
No penalties are being contemplated, state and local officials said.
Kalinowski said that the WSSC experiences an average of 200 leaks a year across its 5,000-plus-mile system of pipes but that few are this serious.
(Source: Washington Post)