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Sewage leak halts shellfish harvesting in portion of Potomac River, officials say

MDE believes an estimated 2,500 gallons of sewage flowed into the river. An estimated 11,000 gallons were vacuumed from ditches.

ST. MARY'S COUNTY, Md. — (Editor's Note: The video above is from November 24, 2021)

Shellfish harvesting in a portion of the Potomac River near St. Mary's County has been closed by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) due to reports of a sewage overflow. 

According to MDE, the emergency order will immediately close about 180 acres of the Potomac River offshore from the St. George Island area of St. Mary's county. The order prevents any harvesting of oysters and other shellfish in the area for the immediate future. The order does not apply to fishing and crabbing. 

The St. Mary's County Metropolitan Commission says the spill was reported Monday. The Commission believes the overflow began on Piney Point Road on November 24 and stopped around 10:30 a.m. Sunday. The overflowing sewage ended up in ditches that drain into the Potomac River.

MDE believes an estimated 2,500 gallons of sewage flowed into the river. An estimated 11,000 gallons were vacuumed from ditches. 

"It was unknown whether any commercial harvesting occurred in the area in recent days, but regulations prohibit commercial harvesting on weekends," said MDE in a press release. 

According to the MDE, shellfish are filter feeders that can filter water and feed food from microscopic organisms in the water. When the waters are polluted, the process can concentrate disease-causing organisms. 

MDE says officials plan to sample the water in the affected area Tuesday and will remove the emergency closure when science shows the oysters are safe to be harvested. 

Officials say the area could reopen for harvesting as soon as December 20. 

This is the third temporary emergency shellfish harvesting closure the MDE has issued in 2021. In January and earlier this month, orders were issued in St. George Creek due to sewage spills from the St. Mary's County Metropolitan Commission system. 

MDE says it will request a meeting with the commission to discuss the repeated system failures and plans to address the various sewage spills. 

WATCH NEXT: Here's what you should look for when choosing oysters

When you're purchasing an oyster, it should be heavy for its size. If it's already been shucked, look for a consistent color along the edge.

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