WASHINGTON – The recent Pfiesteria outbreak has sparked a congressional panel to investigate the response of state and federal agencies to the mysterious toxic microbe.
The House Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee on human resources will hear Thursday from scientists, federal health officials and Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening.
“The questions we want to answer are when … do you connect the dots and make it a federal problem?” said Lawrence Halloran, the subcommittee’s staff director.
Glendening will offer testimony to help the panel better understand the intricacies of the federal and state response to the recent outbreak of the deceptive microorganism, the subcommittee said.
The hearing was called by Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., chairman of the subcommittee whose Connecticut district borders the Long Island Sound.
“Governor Glendening’s approach in Maryland will help the subcommittee understand the benefits, and the difficulties, of a coordinated federal-state public health response to this new public health threat,” Shays said in a prepared statement.
Pfiesteria piscicida is the toxic microbe that has been linked to health problems and fish kills in Maryland waterways.
Recently, controversy has been raised over the differences Maryland and Virginia have displayed in dealing with Pfiesteria. Glendening closed rivers in his state while Virginia has not closed any of its waterways, despite evidence of Pfiesteria.
“The questions are, in the face of a little understood public phenomenon, what are the thresholds for public health response,” Halloran said.
Joann Burkholder, the North Carolina botanist who was the first to document the microorganism in 1988, and Dr. J. Glenn Morris of the University of Maryland School of Medicine will testify at the hearing.
Virginia Health Commissioner Randolph Gordon, North Carolina’s top health and environment officials and representatives from the National Institutes of Health and the Commerce Department also are expected to testify.