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Health Risk Closes Acres of Shellfigh Harvesting in Virginia

Don Rush

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The Virginia Department of Health has ordered the emergency closure of thousands of acres of shellfish harvesting waters to avoid potential contamination from Hurricane Matthew-related flooding and sewage spills "likely containing pathogenic bacteria and viruses."

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports  the closures are effective until the end of the month. An additional 80,000 acres of oyster grounds are in "restricted status," meaning harvesting is subject to rainfall and monitoring results because of potential pollution.

Flooding can increase the risk of high levels of bacteria by sanitary sewer line breaks and by overwhelming treatment plants, resulting in the discharge of sewage. Floodwaters also can carry contamination from private septic systems and animal waste.

Department of Health spokesman Keith Skiles says that "generally by about three weeks, there's no longer a risk of a virus."

Don Rush is the News Director and Senior Producer of News and Public Affairs at Delmarva Public Media. An award-winning journalist, Don reports major local issues of the day, from sea level rise, to urban development, to the changing demographics of Delmarva.