A water utility warned last month that an overwhelmed sewage system sent more than 25,000 gallons of waste into a Potomac River tributary. But the Maryland Department of the Environment said it wasn’t until Virginia officials investigating a foodborne illness outbreak reached out two weeks later that officials closed an affected part of the St. Mary’s River, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Usually, officials alert the public before shellfish are harvested or eaten. It's not clear how it managed to occur, department spokesman Jay Apperson said, but the department is building redundancies into its process to keep it from happening again.
The St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission contacted county and state officials when the overflow began Oct. 28, according to George Erichsen, the commission’s executive director. But that information wasn’t passed to the state office that would close nearby shellfish harvesting areas, Apperson said. The department didn't learn of that lapse until they heard from Virginia officials investigating a foodborne illness that sickened more than 20 people, he said.
The illnesses were linked to a winery where Maryland oysters were served, Loudoun County Health Department environmental health manager George Khan said.
Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks called the lapse “inexcusable” and alarming since the state reported its lowest level of environmental enforcement activity in 20 years.