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Sewage Spill Prompts Ban on Back River Shellfish Harvesting

Due to potential microbiological pollution hazards, shellfish taken from areas affected by an emergency harvest closure along the Back River are unacceptable for consumption. (Pixabay)
Due to potential microbiological pollution hazards, shellfish taken from areas affected by an emergency harvest closure along the Back River are unacceptable for consumption. (Pixabay)
May 18, 2018

HAMPTON, Va. – State health officials have expanded the areas banned from shellfish harvesting due to a raw sewage spill along the Back River.

A sewer infrastructure failure announced Wednesday near Willoughby Point means sewage has been seeping into tributaries of the Back River in the city of Hampton. Despite crews being able to locate and stop the spill, nearly 3,000 additional acres of bottomland are now closed to harvesting due to the potential for microbiological contamination, says Larry Hill, public information officer with the Virginia Department of Health.

"What we've done is that we've closed the area for shellfish harvesting from May 16th to June 7th. However, we'll start checking the waterways and, as soon as we find that the water is safe again, then we will reopen it for shellfish harvesting," says Hill.

The affected shellfish are oysters and clams. While the exact cause of the spill is not yet known, a recent Maryland-based study by the U.S. Geological Survey and Blue Water Baltimore examined how crumbling infrastructure and climate change are combining to cause more sewage spills, which leads to decreased water quality.

Hill says the ban is important because ingesting clams or oysters from these areas at this time could cause gastrointestinal illnesses, including norovirus, hepatitis A and shigellosis.

"The type of shellfish that we're talking about, like oysters, is that those types of shellfish are consumed raw, which makes it more dangerous, as opposed to things that are cooked," says Hill.

Maps of the affected areas are posted on the home page of the Health Department's Division of Shellfish Sanitation.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - VA