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Where Is the New Jersey Shellfish Action Plan?

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Where Is the New Jersey Shellfish Action Plan?

Deadline Today to Address Critical Public Health Deficiencies Identified by FDA

Trenton — Today the State of New Jersey is supposed to present “Action Plans” to cure a host of failings in its shellfish program cited by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or risk a consumption ban, according to documents released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  Among the issues the state must address this summer are a halt to harvest vessels dumping human wastes over shellfish beds, more seaworthy patrol boats staffed by an adequate number of trained personnel and extending full inspection coverage to all processing facilities.

In a June 2, 2010 warning letter accompanying a scathing report, the FDA took the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) to task for –

  • Insufficient DEP staffing to meet patrol frequency requirements, particularly for prohibited, restricted, and closed areas that represent the greatest public health risks;
  • Failure by DEP to purchase a larger and seaworthy vessel required to patrol shellfish growing waters, including Delaware Bay;
  • DHSS noncompliance with inspection requirements for certified shellfish dealers.
  • A serious (30%) shortfall in DEP marine water sampling due to loss of employees, a problem compounded by DEP layoff and furlough policies;
  • The need for microbial pollution source tracking in waters fouled by non-point source pollution, including the upper Navesink River, Sandy Hook Bay, and Shrewsbury River;
  • Absence of state regulations that prohibit overboard discharge of human bodily wastes and prevent the public health risks that result from such discharges.

Both the DEP and DHSS have failed to provide FDA with previously agreed to Action Plans to correct these violations.  In recent days both agencies claim to be incompliance with FDA standards but neither has yet to specify how they attained compliance or whether the FDA agrees with these self-assessments.

“Has New Jersey fielded enough horsepower to protect our shellfish industry?” asked New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, who first revealed the FDA’s critical report and warning about the status of the state shellfish program.  “The state should publicly release its Action Plans and give the public concrete assurances that these plans are backed up by sufficient personnel and equipment to carry them out.”

New Jersey had made commitments to the FDA to implement corrective actions to remedy historical deficiencies by this summer but it is still not clear whether the Christie Administration has honored those commitments.  For example, the state recently posted a plan to control Vibrio parahaemolyticus (Vp) outbreaks from oysters (a small part of the deficiencies tagged by FDA) but the plan does not address the “inadequate enforcement staff” and other resource issues raised by FDA.  Oddly, the state Vp plan is backdated to May 2010 yet it appears to have been first created on June 4th.

“Faced with heightened scrutiny, the state claims that it has cobbled together ameliorative measures, such as borrowing state police patrol boats, but it remains to be seen if the state has a long-term plan that will pass federal muster,” added Wolfe.  “How long will FDA allow New Jersey to flout federal food safety requirements?”

New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability