By Linda Farneth
On Sunday March 17, 2019 the Colonial Beach Wastewater Treatment Facility experienced an electronic failure of the ultraviolet treatment system in the final phases of treating roughly 514,874 gallons of sewage/water.
The problem was identified and quickly resolved, returning the system to normal operations by 10:30 a.m. on Monday morning. March 18.
Per standard procedure, the town notified Virginia Department of Environmental Quality at 2:08 PM that an “untreated” flow of up to 514,874 gallons may have reached state waters.
The flow was actually partially treated but lacked the final stage of treatment before it was dumped.
The report was transferred from DEQ to the Virginia Department of Health, who subsequently issued notice of a spill of raw sewerage. Although the sewerage was partially treated, all citizens should follow the VDH requirements as set forth in the Notice below.
On March 18, 2019 the Virginia Department of Health announced the closing of portions of Monroe Bay and Mattox Creek to Shellfish Harvesting.
The notice read:
The Virginia Department of Health announced today that portions of Monroe Bay and Mattox Creek in Westmoreland County are temporarily closed to shellfish harvesting due to a spill of raw sewage impacting water quality in the areas. Due to potential microbiological pollution hazards, shellfish taken from areas affected by the emergency closure are currently unacceptable for consumption.
The temporary emergency closure is effective March 18, 2019, and is scheduled to reopen effective April 8, 2019. The Division of Shellfish Safety will monitor the shellfish and water quality during this period to determine if the area can be reopened sooner.
Maps of the affected areas are posted on the Division of Shellfish Safety’s home page at www.vdh.virginia.gov/Shellfish/. The affected shellfish are bivalve mollusks including oysters and clams, but not crabs or fin fish.
Ingesting shellfish taken from the closed areas at this time could cause gastrointestinal illnesses including norovirus, hepatitis A and shigellosis.
For more information on shellfish closures, see the frequently asked questions on shellfish condemnations at http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/environmental-health/shellfish-sanitation/frequently-asked-questions/.
Virginia Department of Health Eastern Region Public Information Officer Bernard Hill said the department routinely uses several methods to alert shell fish harvesters. Hill said, “Besides use of media, we have a database of harvesters that want to be notified. Some we may know and give a call.”
Hill added the information is also listed on their website. “Signs are also posted in the closed areas.”
Here are some frequently Asked Questions concerning shellfish Condemnations:
If the waters are condemned for shellfishing, can I harvest crabs?
Yes, while shellfish is used as a term for defining both molluscs (oysters, clams, scallops, etc.) and crustaceans(crabs, lobsters and shrimp), the Division’s Shellfish Closures refer ONLY to restrictions on the harvesting of molluscan shellfish.
If the waters are condemned for shellfishing, can I eat the fish or crabs?
Yes, the condemnation only applies to bivalve molluscan shellfish since they may concentrate bacteria and viruses from the water, and since their intestinal tract is often eaten raw.
If the waters are condemned for shellfishing, can I safely swim in the waters?
It is safe to swim in most condemned shellfish waters in Virginia. The shellfish standard is much more stringent than the swimming standard. However, there is always a certain degree of risk associated with swimming in any natural body of water.
How can I know for sure whether specific waters are approved for shellfishing?
First review the Division’s Shellfish Closures and Shoreline Surveys web page or the Division’s home page if there is an Emergency Closure, then if necessary, contact the nearest DSS Field Office in your area for information.