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When Joe Barrington, Carroll County bureau chief of utilities, recently heard of a black caterpillar-like gunk coming out of residents' faucets in South Carroll, he wasn't sure what to make of it.

"It was very mysterious," he said.

The county received numerous reports of the gunk in Winfield Manor, according to Vivian Laxton, public information administrator for Carroll County government.

So crews were sent out to see what was happening.

"It looks like a black, squirmy caterpillar," Barrington said.

Crews collected samples of the substance, which would sometimes collect in faucets and shower heads, and brought in experts to test what it was.

The verdict?

According to Barrington, it's a polymer residue that builds up over time, and is formed due to a chemical reaction with plastic pipes.

The county uses the polymer to treat water, he said, and because of its magnetic charge, it doesn't react to metal and copper pipes.

But when it reaches plastic pipes, such as those in Winfield Manor, it reacts and collects together to form the black substance.

The county hired Bruce Ketrick of Guardian Chemical Co. in Pennsylvania to test the water, and Barrington said the tests show it's safe -- the substance is harmless, tasteless and odorless, and didn't react to anything when it was cultured in a lab.

But that still doesn't make it any more, well ... palatable.

"It's aesthetically displeasing," Barrington said.

The good news, he said, is that the county will stop using that polymer to treat water now that the Freedom Water Treatment Plant expansion is completed. The new plant expansion went online last week.

So the "black, squirmy caterpillars" should be on the way out. But to clear out any lingering residue, Barrington encourages people to take their aerators from faucets, and to take apart shower heads and rinse them out with water.

For more information, call the county's Bureau of Utilities at 410-386-2164.


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