Glendening pleads with Congress to aid economic victims of Pfiesteria outbreak Hopkins, UM to share in $400,000 federal grant to study Pfiesteria toxins

September 26, 1997|By Michael Dresser and Timothy B. Wheeler | Michael Dresser and Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Gov. Parris N. Glendening urged Congress yesterday to come to the aid of people whose livelihoods have been hurt by outbreaks of a toxic microorganism in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Declaring that "the battle against Pfiesteria is bigger than any one state," the governor also told a House subcommittee the federal government should expand its role.

Glendening called on Washington to take the lead in financing basic research on Pfiesteria piscicida and on how to control the nutrient pollution that is widely believed to contribute to its toxic outbreaks. And as he has in Maryland, the governor cautiously suggested that Congress might have to consider some "mandatory standards" on agricultural runoff.

While he offered no details, Glendening made a general plea for help for people in industries that have either been hurt by the Pfiesteria outbreaks or that might bear costs from efforts to cut nutrient pollution.

"We must work cooperatively to aid those farmers, watermen, poultry growers and private citizens whose livelihoods have been adversely affected," Glendening told the panel.

At least part of the aid the governor was seeking was not long in coming. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences BTC announced yesterday that it is providing $400,000 to boost efforts to identify the toxins from Pfiesteria. Part will go to the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions to continue studying how the organism may harm people.

Meanwhile, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Democrat representing Southern Maryland, is seeking House approval of $3 million to study Pfiesteria outbreaks and to help the states monitor their waters. Maryland's two Democratic senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, introduced a bill for a $2 million study of whether farming practices contribute to outbreaks.

Under the glare of the national news media, the governor made his appearance in the crowded hearing room of the House Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee on human resources. Cameo appearances of a half-dozen House members who don't sit on the panel were testimony to the growing interest in Pfiesteria.

"It's a clear recognition that this issue has taken on national significance," said Rep. Bobby R. Etheridge, a North Carolina Democrat.

Glendening's aggressive response to the Pfiesteria outbreak, including his rapid closing of affected waterways after evidence of a human health hazard became available, won bipartisan compliments from the panel.

By contrast, officials from North Carolina and Virginia, which have been reluctant to close waterways and skeptical about health dangers, came in for pointed questioning.

Rep. Christopher Shays, the Connecticut Republican who chairs the panel, suggested to two witnesses from North Carolina that while that state first saw Pfiesteria-related fish kills six years ago, it has been slow to respond. "Maryland learned from North Carolina's mistakes," he said.

Dr. David Bruton, North Carolina's health secretary, said his state is learning from Maryland's experience with Pfiesteria and is taking some of the same steps in checking for health problems among its fishermen.

North Carolina plans to post signs along waters prone to Pfiesteria outbreaks warning people not to swim or fish there if they see dead or dying fish with lesions, said Debbie Crane, a spokeswoman for the state'e environmental agency.

Glendening also made his now-familiar pitch that Chesapeake Bay seafood is safe to eat. He told the panel that afterward he would be taking his Cabinet out for a rockfish lunch and that, "All of us will be at work tomorrow."

The governor's pitch was supported by Fred R. Shank, director of food safety for the Food and Drug Administration. "To date, there is no evidence of any health problems posed by Pfiesteria through the food chain," he said.

The FDA has looked closely at oysters because several specimens had survived exposure to Pfiesteria toxins in laboratory tanks. Some of those oysters were fed to laboratory rats, which showed no evidence of harm, Shank said.

Pub Date: 9/26/97

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