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
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
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
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