BALTIMORE (Nov. 2, 2022) – The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) has issued an order immediately closing a portion of the St. Mary’s River to shellfish harvesting following a report of damage to a wastewater treatment plant outfall pipe.

Because the damage has the potential to significantly reduce the dilution of effluent required under the National Shellfish Sanitation Program, as a precaution, MDE is expanding the area in which shellfish harvesting is already prohibited because of its proximity to the outfall pipe at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River’s Webster Field Annex wastewater treatment plant.

The order, issued today, became effective immediately to prevent the harvesting of oysters and other shellfish from the area in the immediate future. It applies to 16 acres of the originally closed safety zone and about 37 acres of the newly closed safety zone.

Naval station personnel reported to MDE on Tuesday that the pipe had been damaged that day. After reviewing information relating to the incident and considering the potential impact on water quality in the area, MDE issued the closure order.

At this time, MDE has no information that suggests that shellfish were harvested in the affected area after the pipe was damaged. There are no shellfish harvesting leases in the affected area.

The closure that expands the area prohibited for shellfish harvesting will remain in effect until 21 days after the damage has been repaired. The naval station reported the matter to MDE’s Water and Science Administration compliance program. The cause of the damage has not been confirmed. The naval station reports to MDE that it is taking steps to repair the damage.

MDE coordinates with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Department of Health.

Shellfish are filter feeders able to filter water and get food from microscopic organisms in the water. If the waters are polluted, this filtering process can concentrate disease-causing organisms associated with raw sewage and other sources, such as animal waste. Oysters and clams are often eaten raw or partially cooked and must come from waters that are not polluted. MDE monitors bacteriological water quality and conducts pollution source surveys to determine which areas are safe for shellfish harvesting.

This order does not impact harvest in other approved or conditionally approved areas for shellfish harvest. As a consumer protection, all shellfish are to be tagged by harvesters and dealers as required under the National Shellfish Sanitation Program. Tags include the date and location of harvest and, in Maryland, can only come from approved or conditionally approved waters.

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