NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — State health officials have extended a shellfish harvesting closure for a portion of the James River after untreated wastewater was discharged into the river earlier this month.

On Jan. 4, a major wastewater line broke on 16th Street in Newport News, creating a smelly mess and traffic issues. To repair the line — which was already planned to be replaced as part of a two-mile, $16-million project — crews needed to divert wastewater into the James River.

About 29 million gallons of wastewater were lost or diverted as the repair was made, the Hampton Roads Sanitation District said.

As a result, a shellfish harvesting ban was put into place on Jan. 5. It was set to expire Jan. 25 or earlier, if testing indicated it was safe to harvest the shellfish.

Recently, oyster sampling efforts to support an early reopening were unsuccessful, and therefore the harvesting closure was extended to Feb. 3, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

However, the VDH said water quality samples of bacteria had returned to normal as of Jan. 22.

Still, the VDH recommends using caution near creeks, inlets, or canal because there may be low flushing of water along shorelines and beaches near the site of the sewage release.

Ingesting the shellfish from the banned area could result in gastrointestinal illnesses including norovirus, hepatitis A and shigellosis.

Items that come into contact with the water in the affected area should be rinsed or washed — that includes fishing gear, life vests, ropes and paddles.

Shellfish closure as of Jan. 21, 2021 (Photo courtesy: VDH)