Toilet Waste Found In 4 Mile Run Again

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 8, 2008

Arlington County officials are warning residents to stay out of Four Mile Run, a popular waterway where people fish, wade and let their dogs romp, because it has been contaminated with waste from a portable toilet for the second time in as many weeks.

The waste was dumped into a storm drain and flowed into the stream near Interstate 66 and Westover and Bon Air parks, officials said. A resident noticed the stench yesterday morning and reported the spill about 8:30 a.m.

Workers used a vacuum truck to suck out as much raw waste as possible and posted signs along the stream warning of the contamination, said Steve Temmermand, Arlington's division chief for parks and natural resources. But he said the water near the spill site, tinted with blue deodorizer from the toilet, remained "crummy and yucky, and it smells."

Four Mile Run, which leads to the Potomac River, runs through several recreation areas, including Bon Air, Bluemont, Glencarlyn and Shirlington parks. Trails along the stream are popular with runners, walkers and bicyclists. There are playgrounds, picnic areas and dog parks. A bike race is scheduled on a trail near the stream yesterday.

Officials said that parks remain open but that visitors and their pets should steer clear of the water to avoid potentially harmful bacteria.

Cleanup efforts have been completed and, depending on rainfall, the warning will probably be lifted in three to four days, county officials said. Temmermand said the spill was not large enough to cause significant damage to the stream or the Potomac River.

"It is a lovely area, and we are upset about this," said County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada (D). "Can you believe two occurrences in days? This is illegal, and it's damaging for a very precious resource we have. We'd like to get to the bottom of it and find the culprits. This is outrageous."

Officials think the incident is connected to a similar spill of toilet waste last week. The county also advised residents to avoid the water after that sewage spill was discovered the morning of July 31. The advisory was lifted Tuesday after cleanup efforts, days of stream flow and a rainstorm helped flush away bacteria.

County fire officials, police and parks and environmental officials are investigating, said Chief Fire Marshall Benjamin Barksdale.

Barksdale said it wasn't clear when the waste was dumped. "You would think it would be done under the cover of darkness, but it's a secluded community so it wouldn't have to be," he said.

From the site of the spill, the stream wends for a few miles before emptying into the Potomac, officials said. Elenor Hodges, a county resident and executive director of the nonprofit Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, said the news was disappointing.

"There's trees and rocks and waterfalls, and it's one of Arlington's most precious places," Hodges said. "People sometimes don't realize that when you contaminate . . . it makes its way to the river and the bay."

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