WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives late Thursday night dedicated $3 million to fighting the microorganism killing fish in some Eastern Shore rivers.
Two-thirds of the money will fund research into why Pfiesteria piscidida becomes toxic and how to prevent it.
The other $1 million will aid states in their efforts to deal with the type of Pfiesteria attack that has led Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening to close three waterways in the past two months.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Prince George’s, championed the measure, which was attached to a bill funding the Commerce Department.
The House passed the amendment on a voice vote.
The federal government is already helping Maryland’s war against the toxic microbe, according to Glendening spokesman Raymond Feldmann.
In July, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration pledged an emergency grant of $250,000 to the state, and last week the House approved $7 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study Pfiesteria-related illness.
Earlier Thursday, the governor asked a House subcommittee for federal support.
“The battle against Pfiesteria is bigger than one state can handle alone. We need your help,” Glendening said.
The microbe has killed thousands of Eastern Shore fish since first appearing in May. Earlier this month, Maryland researchers said Pfiesteria was likely the culprit in the short-term memory loss of several people who came into contact with the poisoned water.
But no researcher knows exactly why Pfiesteria is deadly to fish, or why it is only toxic in some stages.
It usually takes six to nine months for government agencies to grant money to scientists for this type of research, said Don Scavia, director of the NOAA’s Coastal Ocean Program.
But “in the case of Pfiesteria, because we are in a real crisis mode,” the government will aim to shorten the process to two or three months, Scavia said.
Academic institutions, such as the University of Maryland Center for Environmental and Estuarine Studies, are likely candidates for the research funds, Scavia said.
The research will not necessarily focus on Maryland but rather “treat it as a mid-Atlantic, regional problem,” he said.
The Senate version of the Commerce Department bill, passed in July, does not include the Pfiesteria funds. A joint House- Senate committee will negotiate a final version to send to the president.
Earlier Thursday, the House Agriculture subcommittee on forestry, resource conservation and research approved a measure designating Pfiesteria research as a high priority for the Agriculture Department.
While the legislation would not directly transfer additional funds to the department for research, it would encourage the government to focus on the microbe when doling out grant money.