WISE, Va. (WJHL) — The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) says people should avoid recreational activities along a stretch of the South Fork Powell River after hundreds of thousands of gallons of sewage were released into the river.

The department issued a recreational water advisory Friday for the South Fork Powell River near East Stone Gap to the Powell River at Big Stone Gap. People should avoid recreational activities like swimming, wading, kayaking, tubing, or any other activity where submersion in the water is likely.

The VDH says the advisory was issued “out of an abundance of caution” due to a sewage release from a Big Stone Gap Department of Public Utilities sewer force main on Thursday into the Powell River. As of noon Friday, the utility reported that around 438,000 gallons of sewage had been released. Repair works were expected to continue Friday.

The health department says it has not observed any impacts to drinking water.

Activities that are not likely to result in water submersions, such as boating, fishing, and canoeing, may continue with caution to avoid contact with the water, according to the VDH.

The department says people should:

  • Avoid contact with the waterbodies noted above and observe advisory signage posted at waterbody access points.
  • Avoid any area of the waterbody where there is water with a foul odor, dead or dying fish, or discolored water.
  • Promptly wash skin with soap and water if you cannot avoid contact with water in the vicinity.
  • Seek medical care and notify your practitioner of the waterbody exposure if you experience adverse health effects after contact with the waterbody.

The health department advised that swallowing contaminated water can cause gastrointestinal illnesses.