Press Release

BALTIMORE, MD (April 8, 2005) – Due to the release of partially treated sewage, the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) has issued an emergency closure to shellfish harvesting at the mouth of the Wicomico River in Charles County. Effective today, all waters between Rock Point and Cobb Point will be restricted to shellfish harvesting. The closure will only impact shellfish harvesting and does not apply to fishing, or crabbing in the area.

“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 Kendl P. Philbrick. “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.”

Heavy rains disrupted operations at the Cobb Island Wastewater Treatment Facility. This facility normally utilizes spray irrigation from lagoons. This emergency closure is due to the need for the Breeze Farm lagoon, associated with the Cobb Island Wastewater Treatment Facility, to discharge partially treated effluent from this holding lagoon to shellfish waters in Neale Sound. The lagoons have reached dangerous levels due to heavy rainfall. The discharge started Thursday, April 7, and will continue until the lagoons have reached safe levels.

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.

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.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A map of the area affected by the closure is available electronically.

This press release has been edited since publication.