Pfiesteria Viewpoints

October 12, 1997|By PERSPECTIVE EDITOR MIKE ADAMS.

Comments on Pfiesteria piscicida, compiled by Perspective editor Mike Adams.

John Goodall, Pocomoke River Watcher for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

"When you look at industrial waste, you can look at a large industry and say, 'point source.' It's not hard. You can look and see a pipe that's spewing a lot of pollution and you can say, 'Look, we have a problem here.'

"We've made great strides in correcting those sorts of problems, but the much harder one is nonpoint source pollution - when you look at a whole region like Maryland's Eastern Shore and see natural beauty and there are no large industrial sites you can point to as a source of pollution. That's when you look at the largest source of pollutants coming into this area and conclude it's the poultry industry.

"What came first, the chicken or the egg?

"Did the Pfiesteria come first and we weren't finding it, or is it just developing now. The nutrient loading problem has been an issue for some time. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been working on it for years now. So this isn't an issue that's been brought up overnight just over Pfiesteria.

"This problem was first documented in North Carolina. For all the public criticism that's been placed on the state of Maryland and its response to this, we're light-years ahead of North Carolina. They didn't readily acknowledge it as a health problem, and they have not worked toward regulations that lower the nutrients leached into the water. When you look at what Maryland is doing, no matter how slow and inept it may seem, Maryland is doing a good job."

Dr. Donald F. Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

"Attention by the news media and public fears concerning Pfiesteria in the Chesapeake Bay have been disproportionate in terms of the risks associated with outbreaks of the toxic phase of this microorganism.

"Relatively speaking, only a very small part of the bay has been affected. The effects on the bay's fish populations and its general ecology have been very modest. Elevated occurrences of fish with lesions similar to those caused by Pfiesteria have been observed in the past, before these dinoflagellates and their fish-attacking behavior were discovered.

"Finally, there is no scientific basis to conclude that what happened in the tidal rivers entering Pocomoke and Tangier sounds this year signals an imminent collapse of the bay ecosystem. In fact, many signs indicate the bay is recovering, albeit more slowly than we had hoped.

"Why then should we be concerned at all?

"First, it is becoming increasingly clear that there are human health risks associated with exposure to waters (but not from eating fish or shellfish) in which toxic outbreaks of Pfiesteria-like organisms are occurring. While the health effects are not life-threatening, no one relishes short-term memory loss. At a minimum, we need more effective means for detecting and predicting toxic conditions so that human exposure can be minimized.

"Second, it is very possible that pollution, particularly by runoff of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and organic matter, is causing conditions in certain of the bay's tidal rivers which promotes the growth of Pfiesteria-like organisms. If this is true, we can then further reduce risks by better controlling pollution.

"While scientists need to do more to understand this linkage, the 1997 Pfiesteria incident has brought needed attention to one of the most vexing challenges in bay restoration - reducing nutrient runoff from agriculture. It has directed a spotlight on the (P possibility that many of the approaches we have been using are less effective than we thought. And, it has forced us to face the stark reality that in areas of intense animal production, such as the Delmarva Peninsula, we are releasing far more nutrients than the land can accommodate without degrading ground water and surface water.

"We should redouble our efforts to reduce agricultural and other sources of nutrient pollution in order to achieve our bay restoration goal. Reduction of outbreaks of toxic dinoflagellates is a possible, but not certain, additional benefit."

John Surrick, a spokesman for Maryland's Department of Natural Resources.

"I certainly think we could have gotten off the ball a little faster. There was some miscommunication between DNR and the watermen concerning some things we should have followed up on last fall [when watermen first reported diseased fish in the Pocomoke]. This spring, when we found a large percentage of fish with lesions, we started to move pretty swiftly to figure out what's wrong. Unfortunately, this is something that won't be solved quickly. Science takes longer than people would like for it to take. We've made some progress; we still have a ways to go."

Jack Howard, a waterman who worked the Pocomoke River until he came down with symptoms linked to Pfiesteria exposure.

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