WASHINGTON – Congress has passed the third and final piece of a $13 million package to battle Pfiesteria piscicida, in what environmentalists call a “good first step” toward beating the sometimes-toxic microbe.
Before heading into recess Thursday, Congress approved $3 million that will be divided between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the states.
NOAA will get $2 million for a program that already studies various other toxic outbreaks in waterways nationwide. The bill also sets aside $1 million to help states hit by a Pfiesteria outbreak.
Congress had earlier approved $3 million for Environmental Protection Agency to conduct research, response and monitoring of the microorganism. A third measure directs $7 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to set up a multistate monitoring effort that will study cases of Pfiesteria-related illness as they arise along the East Coast.
Environmentalists, researchers and state officials complimented the Maryland congressional delegation’s ability to secure the patchwork federal funding in three different spending bills.
“Given the fact that we started very late in the appropriations process, (the funding) is a very major accomplishment,” said Dr. Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and leading researcher on pfiesteria-related illness.
Boesch said that because lawmakers channeled some of the funding through existing programs, researchers should be able to more quickly answer why the microbe assumes its toxic form and how it affects humans.
Maryland Department of Natural Resources spokeswoman Liz Kalinowski said that although it is good to see any federal response to the problem, she is skeptical about how the money will be directed.
“A lot of the money is going to the federal agencies,” she said. “It remains to be seen … how much of this money Maryland will actually get.”
Pfiesteria, a sometimes-toxic microbe, has killed massive amounts of fish, sickened humans and forced the temporary closing of three Maryland waterways.
“Considering that Congress hasn’t had a chance to fully explore the issues of Pfiesteria, it’s a good first step,” said Thomas V. Grasso, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Maryland office.
“What’s missing here … is money to help address … nutrient pollution,” he said. “But that debate will come when they return from recess.”
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