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Some areas affected by broken sewage line now safe

ST. PETERSBURG — Six days after a sewage line burst on 62nd Avenue N, gushing wastewater into nearby Joe's Creek, Pinellas County officials say at least some of the affected areas are safe to enter.

Water samples from Boca Ciega Bay and Long Bayou have met minimum state water quality standards, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection confirmed Friday. But samples from Joe's Creek and Cross Bayou have not. The samples must meet the minimum standards for two consecutive days before the state will lift precautionary notices.

"Pinellas County water quality officials continue to collect water samples from these areas to submit to DEP for evaluation," a county representative wrote in a news release.

The next round of sampling results should be released early next week.

Ana Gibbs, DEP external affairs manager, said the team working to clean up the mess is still in "response mode," but the county will know soon if it will be fined by the state.

Gibbs said that DEP will look at a number of factors before making a decision, including whether the county could have prevented the sewage leak and if its response time and manner was adequate. Often, heavy rainfall can overwhelm storm sewers, Gibbs said, which is usually beyond the county's control.

So far, it appears Pinellas officials reported the leak within 24 hours, as required, and have generally complied with state response criteria, Gibbs said.

"We still meet after the fact to go over everything," she said.

Citizens are encouraged to stay away from the waters still under the advisory. Though the county said the spill does not affect drinking water, Peter Clark, president of Tampa Bay Watch, said bacteria from the sewage could pose a threat to swimmers and cause intestinal issues or eye irritation.

Contact Katie Mettler at kmettler@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8913. Follow her @kemettler.

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