WASHINGTON – Federal scientists may soon get $12 million to study Pfiesteria-related illnesses in Maryland and six other East Coast states, a congressman said Friday.
The House of Representatives on Thursday approved $7 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study illnesses linked to Pfiesteria piscicida, the toxic microbe blamed for massive fish kills this summer in Maryland.
The Senate version of the larger funding bill was approved earlier this summer without Pfiesteria money. After the House bill passes, the two versions will go to a joint House-Senate conference committee for negotiations over differences in the two versions.
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest said he was confident the joint committee would approve $12 million for Pfiesteria, the amount CDC said was necessary to study cases from Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
“Based on what happened in the House and the critical nature of the issue, we think we’ll get the full $12 million,” the Eastern Shore Republican said.
Rep. John Porter, R-Ill., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services and education, agreed to only $7 million in the House legislation.
“Its tough to get $12 million right out of the hat,” Gilchrest said. “Especially at this time of cuts and [an attempt at a] balanced budget.”
Although the microorganism was discovered in 1988, it did not reach the national consciousness until a recent series of fish kills in the Pocomoke River.
Some typical symptoms of Pfiesteria-related illness include reddening of the eyes, severe headaches, blurred vision, difficulty breathing and memory loss.
“We’re dealing with a specific issue that we basically have the science to fix,” Gilchrest said.
Pocomoke City Mayor Curt Lippoldt, whose 4,000 residents have been hard hit by the close of the Pocomoke River, applauded the congressional action.
“I am surprised and pleased,” he said. “The health of people is obviously most important.”
But not everyone was happy.
“I wish they’d grabbed the problem at the base and cleaned up the water,” said Matt Abell, manager of Sea Hawk Sports Center in Pocomoke City. “They are treating the symptoms, not the cause.”
Gilchrest said he is working on securing money in another funding bill to combat Pfiesteria’s environmental causes. Scientists believe that high nutrient levels in water may cause the onset of the toxic form of the microbe.
Gilchrest wants federal money to be given to University of Maryland agricultural extension services to conduct soil tests.
He also wants to provide grants to state farmers to plant cover crops to use up excess nutrients and to prevent their runoff in area waterways.
Gilchrest also is asking for $3 million a year for the next three years to fund Pfiesteria research.