Maryland's Department of the Environment reopened shellfish beds in the Patuxent River yesterday as cleanup of an oil spill April 7 at a Prince George's county power plant continued.
Susan Woods, MDE spokeswoman, said yesterday that the department decided to reopen the river after tissue tests on oysters, crabs and finfish in the area of the spill showed contaminants "well below" unsafe levels.
MDE closed clam and oyster beds from the Thomas Johnson Bridge at Solomons Island north after 111,000 gallons of fuel oil spilled from a pipeline at Potomac Electric Power Company's Chalk Point plant. The department also warned residents not to take fish from areas where they can smell petroleum, see a sheen on the surface or see oil on the beach.
"There may be areas of the river where you see an oily sheen, and you ought to stay away from these areas," Woods said yesterday. "And if you catch a fish or a crab with an oily smell, throw it back."
An estimated 30 percent of the oil settled into a 45-acre marsh at the head of Swanson Creek on PEPCO property, but more was swept by a storm over containment booms into the river and some of its tributaries. At one point, the plume of oil extended 17 miles downriver on both sides, fouling 20 miles of shoreline in four counties.
Yesterday, federal, state and PEPCO crews removed and replaced oil-soaked booms in more than a dozen creeks and inlets off the river and did more detailed cleaning along the shoreline.
They said they are approaching the point that mechanical cleanup operations may do more damage than good in certain sensitive environmental areas and have begun to use a "bio-remediation plan" to continue the cleanup.
The plan uses naturally occurring microbes to break down the oil.
Cleanup crews have seen bacteria scum mixed with oil and plan to add more nutrients to the water to stimulate the process.
Last week, cleanup officials said they had found 280 dead birds, otters, snakes and muskrats in the area of the oil spill, but added that not all of them were killed by the spill.