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Shellfish harvesting closure extended

Officials have extended a closure of shellfish harvesting in area waters caused by a sewage spill in Newport News earlier this month.

The emergency condemnation includes the James River between the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel and the James River Bridge. It also includes parts of the upper Nansemond River, Chuckatuck Creek and Bennett’s Creek in Suffolk; waters in and around the Ragged Island Wildlife Management Area, including Ragged Island Creek, Cooper Creek and Kings Creek in Isle of Wight County; and Streeter and Hoffler creeks in Portsmouth.

The closure first happened Jan. 4 after the wastewater spill in downtown Newport News. About 29 million gallons were spilled. The closure was set to run until Jan. 25 but has now been extended until Feb. 3.

“Oyster sampling efforts made in an attempt to support an early reopening were unsuccessful, and these results require an extension of the emergency closure duration,” a press release from the Virginia Department of Health stated on Friday.

While water quality samples have returned to normal, the health department recommends using caution near creeks, inlets or canals where there is low flushing of water and alone shorelines and beaches in the area.

“We want people to know they should not be in the water or touching things in and around the water,” health department spokesman Larry Hill said.

The affected shellfish are bivalve mollusks including oysters and clams, but not crabs or fin fish. Due to potential microbiological pollution hazards, shellfish taken from the area affected by the emergency closure are currently unacceptable for consumption, the state department of health stated. Such condemnations apply only to bivalve shellfish since they may concentrate bacteria and viruses from the water, and since their intestinal tract is often eaten raw.