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DEP Facilitates Agreement Between Middlesex County Utilities Authority and Shellfish Industry to Assist Clammers Impacted by Sewage Spill:

Announces Water Testing and Shellfish Bed Re-Opening Plan

(03/32) TRENTON - Responding to the shellfish industry's call for assistance, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) today announced that the Middlesex County Utilities Authority (MCUA) has agreed to supply clean water needed to resume services at the two depuration plants that were temporarily closed as a result of the sewage line break.

"We are very pleased that this temporary measure will allow the depuration plants to resume business and offer relief to local clammers financially impacted by the shellfish bed closures," said DEP Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell. "The department continues to closely monitor the impacts of the sewage spill and will reopen the shellfish beds as soon as test results indicate that the water quality meets public health standards."

MCUA has contracted with Linden Bulk Transport, Inc. to carry between 10,000 and 15,000 gallons of clean salt water daily from the Barnegat Bay to the shellfish industry's two depuration facilities in the Atlantic Highlands area, where the shellfish are cleaned through a purification process before going to market. The two facilities are temporarily unable to use local water from the Raritan and Sandy Hook bays due to higher than normal bacterial counts following the sewage line break.

While shellfish beds remain closed in the Raritan Bay, Sandy Hook Bay, Navesink River and Shrewsbury River, the depuration facilities can once again serve harvesters working in open shellfish beds in the Manasquan River.

As of Saturday, March 15, DEP monitoring results for the Raritan and Sandy Hook bays indicated a significant decline in fecal coliform levels. Both areas tested below the FDA health-based standard of 88 parts of fecal coliform per 100 milliliters required in harvesting waters. The highest level of fecal coliform was in the western end of Raritan Bay and was 43 parts of fecal coliform per 100 milliliters.

Due to concerns raised over possible viral and heavy metals contamination resulting from the sewage spill, the DEP is performing additional testing as a precautionary measure to confirm that levels of these contaminants are at or below concentrations deemed safe for human consumption. EPA Region 2 is helping to expedite the testing, which will include arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and nickel. Criteria for these metals will be the values listed in the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) guidance documents.

"Based on the magnitude of the sewage spill and on concerns raised over metal and viral contamination, it is prudent to take a phased approach to re-opening these waters to shellfish harvesting," Commissioner Campbell added. "The DEP reopening plan for shellfish beds has the FDA's support and approval, and is based on ensuring public health and safety."

The DEP's reopening plan for shellfish beds requires the following:

Five consecutive sampling results that show fecal coliform levels remain below the FDA health-based standard of 88 parts of fecal coliform per 100 milliliters;
Heavy metal levels in shellfish tissue are within FDA guidelines; and that
Levels of a viral indicator (coliphage) in shellfish tissue samples are acceptable.

The Department will continue to conduct water monitoring tests in shellfish bed areas on a daily basis.

In response to a separate issue relating to New Jersey's shellfish beds, the DEP is temporarily banning shellfish relaying activities in the Raritan and Sandy Hook bays. This ban will not affect harvesting activities that utilize the depuration plants. On March 13, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation suspended its transplant program due to the finding of the hard clam parasistic disease Quahog Parasite Unknown (QPX) in Raritan Bay hard clam populations located off of Staten Island.

While QPX causes mortalities in hard clams, it is not harmful to consumers who might eat infected clams.

The DEP has taken numerous tissue samples from clams in the Raritan and Sandy Hook bays and sent them to the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences for analysis. Expedited test results are anticipated within three weeks. In the interim, relay harvesting in New Jersey will be permitted in waters of the Manasquan River.

While the QPX organism has been found throughout the Atlantic coast of North America since the late 1950s, including shellfish in New Jersey, it has generally not caused significant clam mortalities in the state. The concern is that relaying heavily infected clams from the Raritan Bay to other areas could infect shellfish in uncontaminated areas.



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Last Updated: July 14, 2010