Column: In Search of Sound Science and Transparency

Column: In Search of Sound Science and Transparency


Now more than ever, the application of sound science is critical to decisions impacting our Potomac Subregion. Last week, Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner, chair of the council’s Transportation and Environment Committee, opened the committee’s first work session on the proposed Glen Hills Sewer Policy Text Amendment by emphasizing the need for the council to examine carefully the science underlying the use of sewer and septic in low density areas. Glen Hills residents, many of whom are scientists, engineers, and technology specialists, have provided invaluable fact-based analyses throughout the conduct of the Glen Hills study and now on the proposed text amendment.

The week before, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) voted to sign a consent decree that will require a major overhaul, replacement, or perhaps even relocation of the Potomac Water Filtration Plant currently located along the C&O Canal on River Road. For over 18 years WSSC had been illegally releasing millions of pounds of sediment and other pollutants, including aluminum used as a sediment coagulant, annually into the Potomac. WSSC’s actions were a direct result of the plant’s inability to deal with increasing amounts of sediment and debris coming from the Watts Branch stream as a result of the enormous development in the City of Rockville and North Potomac, the headwaters of the Watts Branch. The headwaters also reach up into Glen Hills, another reason to limit sewer infrastructure expansion there. Implementation of the remedies will require sound science and extensive engineering decisions. A critical element must be addressing the root of the problem — continuing overdevelopment in the Watts Branch headwaters, yet the proposed previously proposed Mid-River intake does nothing to clean up any of the Watts Branch sediment pollution.

More recently, the proposed tree cutting at Swains Lock campground on the C&O Canal raises questions regarding the hard science behind what trees are truly a threat to camper safety. Hopefully USEPA will finally undertake a true scientific study of the health impacts of artificial turf. Finally, we look forward to learning much more about the science and engineering behind the utility-scale solar facility that the Montgomery County School Board is considering for the 20-acre Brickyard School site, formerly Nick Maravell’s organic farm.


By Ginny Barnes

Swains Lock Tree Cutting: With no public notice, the National Park Service (NPS) recently began the removal of up to 60 trees from the campground at Swains Lock. Thanks to the quick alert by WMCCA Board member Barbara Brown, citizen activists were able to mobilize and notify appropriate authorities. As a result, the same day cutting began it was halted by C&O Canal National Historical Park (NHP) Superintendent Kevin Brandt who was contacted by Councilmember Roger Berliner. Nevertheless, eight trees became stumps and 14 more were cut beyond saving. Another 42 are still marked for removal. NPS staff believed the trees pose a danger to campers. However, the trees also serve as a buffer and attenuator of stormwater run-off entering the Potomac River, already severely impacted by sediment pollution.

Councilmember Roger Berliner, who represents the affected areas, along with Superintendent Brandt, will host a “community conversation” on Saturday, Nov. 7, so residents can learn firsthand why NPS believes cutting is necessary to protect the public at Swains Lock campground, Riley’s Lockhouse day-use area, and the Marsden Tract campground. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. and will start at Swains Lock and move on to the other two sites. The Marsden Tract campground is just off the towpath near the intersection of Brickyard Road and MacArthur Boulevard.

Brickyard School Site: Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is proposing to build a solar panel farm on the Brickyard site (formally Nick's Organic Farm) and two other school sites, one in Laytonsville and the other in Olney. Notices have been sent out announcing three public meetings to discuss the proposal. The meeting closest for our community is Nov. 17, 7 p.m. at Seven Locks Elementary School in the multipurpose room. While the proposal appears environmentally beneficial, it still represents an industrial use in a residentially zoned community. The installation of ground mounted photovoltaic systems requires significant infrastructure. There are a lot of questions to be answered about such un unanticipated use, so attending the public meeting is vital.

Tobytown Bus Route: We have recently learned that County Executive Isiah Leggett has long promised residents of the historically black community of Tobytown access to public transportation. The route was .00004 percent of the proposed $5.06B budget for FY16. Yet the mere $200,000 needed to fulfill his promise was slashed. The RideOn route is critical to connect the rural neighborhoods of River's Edge, Tobytown, and Potomac to the rest of the community. Many residents do not have cars and need the bus to reach workplaces and shopping. This overlooked neighborhood needs our support. Letters to County Executive Leggett ( and state Del. Aruna Miller ( will help obtain much needed and long overdue public transportation service.


By Carol Van Dam Falk

The battle to force the EPA to take a thorough look at the health and safety concerns of artificial turf goes on, and momentum is building. Last week, WJLA ABC 7 aired an in-depth, investigative report on concerns over artificial turf and reports of cancer that may be linked to the toxins in crumb rubber. The reporter pointed out that it's on as many as 12,000 fields nationwide, including more than 50 public school facilities. The reporter interviewed a U-MD former and professional goalkeeper who said he's trying to move parks, schools, and other facilities away from crumb rubber. Steve Powers told ABC 7: "If it turns out the fields I used to play on, the fields I used to coach on were a factor in me getting cancer, that's a tough pill to swallow." Link to the full story:

Two weeks ago, the House Committee on Energy & Commerce sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, requesting answers to 10 questions related to crumb rubber, the agency's knowledge of testing and cancer rates. And now we have come to learn that manuals put out by the synthetic turf council state that fields need regular and likely expensive maintenance — instructions that most school facilities and public parks most likely do not follow. If you are as concerned as we are about the effects of crumb rubber and want Montgomery County to enforce a full ban on all future artificial turf installations, contact Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, Del. Aruna Miller, and U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen to express your concerns.