SNOW HILL – The dumping of used carpet cleaning solution into the coastal bays may be an issue in Ocean City, but not in Worcester County, staff reported to the commissioners after looking into the matter.
Commissioner Judy Boggs asked staff to investigate possible dumping after reading a column by Dave Wilson, Maryland Coastal Bays Program outreach coordinator, in a local newspaper. Dumping such materials into local waterways is illegal.
“We’ve not seen any evidence of it. We’ve not had any complaints about it,” said Ed Tudor, head of Development Review and Permitting. “We stand ready to look into it.”
County Public Works Director John Tustin said, “At public works, we’ve never had any requests from carpet cleaners for disposal options. I’ve never seen anything like this either.”
Tustin called the matter a “non-issue” in the county.
Wilson, however, said he has witnessed four incidents in the county.
“I, personally, on four different occasions, have seen carpet cleaning trucks dumping waste, three times on Sinepuxant Rd. and one in the Isle of Wight Wildlife Management Area,” he said.
Ocean City sees more illegal dumping activity with the hottest spot on 94th Street.
While the dumping of the used cleaning solution is probably not a major problem, Wilson said, “We need to hand out some fines to show this will not be tolerated.”
Ocean City Environmental Engineer Gail Blazer said Ocean City does see dumping and that it’s hard to get a handle on it because the fines are so low.
“We’ve been struggling with it for a long time and trying to figure out what to do about it,” Blazer said.
Blazer said she does not like to resort to the legal system, instead attempting to educate offenders through letters and workshops.
Carpet cleaners are not the only people dumping unwanted material or substances into the storm drains, with Blazer targeting efforts to powerwashers, bulkheaders and car wash services as well.
“A lot of people think our storm drains go to the wastewater treatment plant but they don’t,” said Blazer. “Our storm drains dump right into the bay, shotgun right out to where we swim and fish.”
Carpet cleaning companies holding Ocean City business licenses can go to the Ocean City wastewater treatment plant and dump their used fluids for free.
Most respond positively to her efforts, according to Blazer.
“Ninety-percent of the people would do the right thing if they knew what the right thing was,” Blazer said.
Wilson said, “It’s a problem that’s solvable. We spend a lot of time on problems that are hard to get a grip on.”
Some, however, just do not care, and are not easily deterred by fines levied by the town, which begin at $25. The maximum fine under the littering law is $1,000, but it’s rarely handed out.
The Maryland Attorney General’s Environmental Crimes Unit is aware of the issue here, said Wilson.
The state can prosecute offenders under a law nixing ‘polluting waters of the state’, which carries a $10,000 maximum fine.
“That 10 percent needs to be fined and needs to be hit hard. They’re not going to change unless someone makes them,” said Blazer.
Wilson asked the public to report incidents to the police and to try to get photographic evidence. The state’s attorney’s office is often unwilling to prosecute without that proof, despite eyewitness accounts.
“I think Ocean City is going to be stepping up some efforts,” said Wilson.
“We want to keep our water clean because it keeps our economy going,” said Blazer.