Maryland has filed suit against the water and sewer utility serving St. Mary’s County, accusing it of unlawfully spilling nearly 2.2 million gallons of untreated sewage, most of it into Chesapeake Bay tributaries, in dozens of sewer overflows over the past five years. A spill in 2021 has been tied to a food poisoning outbreak that sickened 27 people in Virginia who consumed oysters from a sewage-tainted creek.
Acting on behalf of the Maryland Department of the Environment, Attorney General Brian Frosh filed the lawsuit Dec. 1 against the St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission. The complaint seeks civil penalties and a court injunction ordering MetCom, as the commission is known, to stop the repeated overflows.
“We have charged MetCom with multiple violations of the most fundamental laws that protect public health and the environment,” Frosh said in a release announcing the lawsuit. “Releasing raw sewage could not be more dangerous. We will hold them accountable.”
From 2017 through October of this year, MetCom discharged 2,170,876 gallons of sewage onto the ground or into local waters on 58 different occasions, the state’s suit alleges.
“This complaint is a necessary action, given the unacceptable series of sewage overflows and illegal discharges,” MDE Secretary Horacio Tablada said in a statement. “It is important to note that it not only seeks financial penalties but also a requirement for corrective actions to be taken to fix this problem."
In late October 2021, during an unusually severe tidal flood, 25,600 gallons of diluted but untreated sewage spilled into St. George Creek off the Potomac River. Unaware of the incident, a St. Mary’s aquaculture business harvested more than 7,000 farmed oysters from the creek shortly afterward and shipped most to Virginia for sale at weekend festivals. Health officials said weeks later that 27 people who attended those events reported getting sick after eating the raw oysters.
As legally required, MetCom had promptly reported that overflow, as it did with all the other episodes cited in the lawsuit. But MDE, which regulates shellfish harvesting waters, failed to act on MetCom’s notification of the October 2021 spill before Virginia authorities began hearing from sickened festivalgoers. An MDE spokesman said the agency’s failure to close the creek promptly to shellfish harvesting stemmed from an internal communications breakdown.
Getting sick from bad oysters is almost a rite of passage in Maryland, one which I have managed to avoid so far but can happen almost any time you consume raw oysters. But it doesn't help when they are dumping raw sewage on the beds.