BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Maryland Department of Environment has issued an emergency order to close a section of the Potomac River near the Virginia shoreline to shellfish harvesting following a sewage overflow.
The department issued the order today. It applies to the Potomac River but does not extend to the Maryland coastline, authorities said.
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Maryland officials are concerned about an area along the west side of the Potomac River and south of U.S. Route 301 – at the mouth of Upper Machodoc Creek in Virginia
They decided to close the area to harvesting oysters and shellfish after Virginia health officials contacted them about the sewage overflow affecting the creek.
Although the sewage overflow has been stopped, the area will remain closed for 21 days, which is the required waiting period once a sewage overflow has stopped, authorities said. The shellfish harvest could begin in the region as early as February 12.
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Seashells feed on microscopic organisms in the water. If the water is polluted, the filtering process used by shellfish to consume their food can concentrate pathogenic organisms associated with raw sewage and other sources, such as animal waste.
Shellfish harvesting is not permitted on weekends and state government officials believe there are no oyster leases in the affected area.
The Maryland Department of Environment is working in coordination with the Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Natural Resources Police and the Maryland Department of Health to mitigate any potential issues resulting from the sewage overflow, authorities said. The department is also in contact with the Potomac River Fisheries Commission.
Maryland officials are coordinating with Virginia health and environmental officials and expect to receive updated information on the impact of the spill next week, authorities said. They intend to remove the emergency closure once the oysters can be harvested safely and public health is protected.
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The emergency order does not apply to fishing and crabbing.