Press Release

BALTIMORE, MD (February 25, 2003) – Due to the release of partially treated sewage, the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) has issued an emergency closure to shellfish harvesting in the Miles River, in Talbot County. All waters of the Miles River above Deep Water Point will be restricted to shellfish harvesting. This closure went into effect on Sunday February 23. The closure will impact shellfish harvesting only and does not apply to fishing, or crabbing in the area. Shellfish (oysters & clams) are filter feeders and can concentrate disease-causing organisms associated with raw sewage.

“The law requires the department to close areas that do not meet the strict water quality standards necessary for shellfish harvesting waters,” said MDE Secretary Designate Lynn Y. Buhl. “This action is necessary to prevent potential harmful effects from consumption of shellfish exposed to untreated or partially treated sewage. This action will assure the continuance of Maryland's excellent reputation for wholesome shellfish products and maintain compliance with the National Shellfish Sanitation Program.”

Last weekend, heavy rains and melting snow disrupted operations at the St. Michael’s Wastewater Treatment Facility. Excess water began entering the collection system on Saturday (Feb. 22) overloading the system’s capacity sending as much as two million gallons of partially treated sewage into the Miles River. As of yesterday (Feb. 24), flows into the plant had subsided. It may take several days for plant operations to return to normal. During that time, partially treated sewage may continue to be discharged from the plant.

The shellfish harvesting waters will be re-opened when MDE determines that the shellfish and the waters again comply with the water quality standards for shellfish harvesting. A map of the area affected by the closure is attached.

Shellfish (oysters and clams) are filter feeders. They have the ability to filter the water around them and get food from the myriad of microscopic organisms found in the water column. If the waters are polluted, this filtering process can potentially include viruses or bacteria harmful to humans. 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 the harvesting of shellfish.