The Maryland Department of the Environment announced Wednesday that shellfish harvesting is off-limits in parts of St. Mary’s River near a broken pipe that connects to a wastewater treatment facility.
Harvesting oysters and other shellfish is prohibited in a 53-acre area surrounding the damaged pipe that links to the Naval Air Station Patuxent River’s Webster Field Annex wastewater treatment plant in Southern Maryland. The environmental agency said it’s closing the area as a precaution.
Last year, two dozen people got sick from eating Chesapeake Bay oysters and other filter-feeding shellfish contaminated with sewage. Environmental officials did not warn residents about the sewage spill that polluted the shellfish until after people became ill.
Navy officials on Tuesday informed the environment department that the pipe was damaged the same day. There are no shellfish harvesting leases in the affected area, which includes 16 acres of an already-closed safety zone and 37 acres that were closed Tuesday, said Jay Apperson, a department spokesperson, in a statement.
Harvesters and shellfish dealers are required by a national shellfish sanitation program to tag the date and location of a harvest, and Maryland harvesters can work only in approved waters. The environment department does not believe any shellfish, which are typically eaten raw, were harvested in the prohibited area.
“After reviewing information relating to the incident and considering the potential impact to water quality in the area, MDE issued the closure order,” Apperson said.
The area will be closed for 21 days after the pipe is fixed, and the cause of the damage has not been confirmed.