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Maryland Potomac River spill flowing toward W.Va.

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Berkeley County Public Service Water District is working on determining what impact a chemical spill into the Potomac River, originating in Allegany County, Maryland, will have on its operations when the spill reaches the county, said executive director Christine Thiel.

On Sept. 23, 10,000 gallons of latex chemical used for paper coating at Verso paper mill spilled into the North Branch of the Potomac River. Thiel said the chemical should reach Berkeley County on Oct. 6.

“We are trying to determine what impact this chemical will have on our water source. We’re trying to determine if the plant can treat it or if it will be a detriment to bring it into the plant. We’re also determining what we would do in terms of shutting down the intake,” Thiel said.

Dr. David Didden, health officer with the Jefferson County Health Department, said municipal water departments with intakes on the Potomac River are aware of the spill and are looking into any potential health risks that may be posed by the chemical.

“We are monitoring the situation and checking into any health risks. The water departments in Shepherdstown and Harpers Ferry know about this spill and are watching it and will check chemical levels as it reaches us (in the Eastern Panhandle),” Didden said.

Berkeley County is the only county in the Eastern Panhandle whose service district intakes water from the Potomac River. Neither the Jefferson County Public Service District nor the Warm Springs Public Service District supply their customers from the Potomac River.

In Jefferson County, the Harpers Ferry Water Works and the Shepherdstown Water Department intake water for the municipalities’ systems from the Potomac River.

A Sept. 25 message put up on the official website for the corporation of Shepherdstown states the Shepherdstown Water Department was notified about the spill by the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin. According to studies conducted by the commission, the chemical is estimated to reach the intake in Shepherdstown on Oct. 10.

An employee with the Shepherdstown Water Department who wished to remain anonymous said once more information is available, the department will issue a public notice-probably on Wednesday-with updated information about the timing and nature of the chemical.

“It’s expected to reach us by Oct. 10, but it may take another course. It may not even get to us,” he said.

If the Shepherdstown Water Department closes its Potomac River intake, the town’s water towers have enough water stored for more than two days.

“The intake would be shut down only if the latex chemical levels in the water are above the maximum contaminant level. The maximum for this chemical is 0.1 parts per million, so we’ll be taking samples throughout the week.”

Theil said the district is currently evaluating its supplies and capability to meet water demand if the intake is shut down. If the intake is cut off, the district has other alternative water sources it would be able to take water from, such as the City of Martinsburg and its Bunker Hill plant, she said.

The district will notify customers if there is a need to reduce water consumption during that period.

“Right now, we’re gathering information about the chemical to determine whether the membrane at the plant can handle it and what the concentration might be when it gets here,” Theil said.

Theil said information on the spill and the district’s response was posted to the organization’s Facebook page, and any updates will be made available on the page, at

Shepherdstown water customers may contact the Shepherdstown Water Department at 304-876-2394, or look for updates online at

Staff writer Samantha Cronk can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 132, or Staff writer Mary Stortstrom can be reached at 304-725-6581 or

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