Tuesday, December 6, 2022

St. Marys Utility Sued over Sickening Oysters

Bay Journal, Southern Maryland utility sued over repeated sewage overflows, "State lawsuit comes 13 months after dozens sickened from eating tainted oysters"

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.

Sewage spills like that are still fairly routine around Baltimore and Washington DC (although DC is much better), the difference being, both in all but fresh waters, have no viable oyster populations to pollute. 

“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.

You know who's not taking any responsibility for people getting sick? Maryland DNR, who "forgot" to send out  notifications to watermen and aquaculturists. 

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. 

The Wombat has Rule 5 Sunday: Mrs. Verlander Goes To New York ready on time and under budget at The Other McCain.


  1. And the beaches north of Boston were (and maybe still are) heavily littered with plastic tampon applicators.