Thank you, Mr. Chairman for inviting me to talk with you about how Maryland is
addressing the ongoing problem of Pfiesteria. Let me also take this opportunity to say
that all of us in the State are very grateful for your actions, and the critical support
we have been receiving at the federal level.
Right now, Maryland is facing an unprecedented challenge to the health and vitality of
our waterways and our citizens. As most of you know, in recent weeks three Eastern Shore
waterways -- the Pocomoke River, a creek of the Manokin River watershed, and a section of
the Chicamacomico River -- have all experienced outbreaks of toxic Pfiesteria-like
Pfiesteria and Pfiesteria-like organisms are not only threatening our Bay tributaries
and their watersheds, they are also having a dramatic impact on the lives of
Marylands citizens and visitors. Our farmers, our anglers, our fish merchants and
our hospitality businesses are all being affected to some degree.
Although Maryland was the first state in the nation to link toxic outbreaks of
Pfiesteria to concerns about public health, we are not alone in our experience with this
problem: Delaware experienced a massive fish kill in 1987 that may have been be
Pfiesteria-related; Pfiesteria-like organisms have been found in Virginias
Rappahannock River; and North Carolina has been struggling with this problem for more than
six years. Pfiesteria knows no geographic boundaries.
Yet while other states have been challenged by Pfiesteria-like organisms, and Maryland has
learned from them, our experience is somewhat unique. Indeed, while the Bay literally
divides our State geographically, it is also a powerful unifying force in the lives of
The Chesapeake Bay is much more than a body of water. The Bay and its tributaries
support the regions economies, provide a wealth of recreational opportunities and
are a significant component of our quality of life. One need only visit our State capital,
Annapolis, to see just how true this is: Treasure the Chesapeake license plates abound.
T-shirts, bumper stickers and calendars urge us to Save the Bay. Shops, restaurants and
boating facilities proudly link their identity to our beloved Chesapeake Bay. As my boss,
Governor Parris N. Glendening, said in his testimony to the Government Reform &
Oversight Subcommittee on Human Resources last month, Maryland is Maryland because
of the Chesapeake Bay.
I am pleased to see that you have invited two of the people we have come to rely on
most during this crisis, Dr. Don Boesch and Dr. JoAnn Burkholder, to address the science
of this issue -- the conditions that may be responsible for toxic outbreaks of this type
of micro-organism, and our ability to predict, detect and manage them.
I know, however, that I speak for Governor Glendening and my counterparts at the
Maryland Departments of Environment, Health, and Agriculture, when I say we have become
far more expert on this subject than we had ever hoped need be.
Included as part of my written testimony is a chronology of our Pfiesteria-related
activities to date that details what Maryland has done about Pfiesteria so far; what we
plan to do about the this problem in the future; how the federal government is helping us
now, and what they can do in the months ahead. Here, I would like to provide you with a
brief summary of this information.
Marylands response to occurrences in the Pocomoke, Manokin and Chicamacomico
watersheds, has received national attention. When Pfiesteria first became a problem,
Governor Glendening assembled an inter-agency team, led by the Secretaries of Agriculture,
Health and Mental Hygiene, Environment and myself, to address this issue. Throughout our
efforts to identify and understand this microbe, we have also been working with
Marylands academic and scientific institutions, as well as the Chesapeake Bay
Foundation, the Watermens Association, and renowned experts like Dr. Boesch, Dr.
Burkholder and Dr. Karen Steidinger of Florida.
During this period, we have also been working closely with the people of Maryland. They
are the ones who are feeling the economic impact of this problem; they are the one whose
quality of life has suddenly changed; and they are the ones whos health is being
For this reason, Governor Glendening has, with the full support of his cabinet and
Marylands local officials, insisted that the public has a right to know the same
things we know. It is our hope that sharing information with the public has given the
public confidence that we are doing the right thing in protecting public health.
While Maryland is working hard to accomplish several objectives, first and foremost is
our responsibility to protect public health. Whether it is the consumers, the watermen or
the recreational water enthusiasts, nothing is more important to us than the health and
safety of our citizens.
The good news is that Maryland seafood is safe to eat. The seafood we buy at the
grocery store and eat at restaurants does not come from affected waterways, and the
Governor has implemented a statewide seafood marketing campaign to inform and reassure o
the public. Yet, while we know our seafood is safe to eat, we also know that toxic levels
of Pfiesteria-like organisms are harming fish, and in some cases, are being linked to
human health problems.
We received our first report of people becoming ill in April. At that time, the local
public health officials, under the direction of Marylands Department of Health and
Mental Hygiene, encouraged anyone experiencing unusual illnesses to see their personal
physician and to report their illnesses to the local health department. Since then, the
States medical team has continued to aggressively investigate the causes and effects
of the presence of Pfiesteria-like organisms in Marylands waters.
On August 6, we experienced our first major fish kill in the Pocomoke River, where as
many as 15,000 fish were found dead or dying. We immediately issued a public health
advisory to avoid all water contact in designated areas. When the fish kill continued, the
Governor ordered an indefinite closure of the area and directed Natural Resources police
to ensure compliance. Results from testing of water samples from the August 6 fish kill
indicated the likely presence of Pfiesteria-like organisms.
On August 26, a fish kill occurred in the Virginia waters of Pocomoke Sound. We again
issued an advisory to avoid water contact in nearby Maryland waters.
On August 29, the States medical team, which included doctors from the University
of Maryland, Johns Hopkins University, accompanied by the Centers for Disease Control and
prevention, presented the preliminary results of their evaluations of persons reporting
illnesses thought to be associated with Pfiesteria. Their research has shown that people
had suffered skin irritation, skin lesions, respiratory problems, as well as memory loss
and other neurological problems.
As a result of this report, which found that persons exposed to the Pocomoke River
during an outbreak of toxic Pfiesteria experienced difficulties in learning and short-term
memory, on August 29, Governor Glendening ordered that the Lower Pocomoke River be closed.
Although there was much discussion about closing the river on the Friday before Labor Day,
Governor Glendening made the decision to move on the side of caution in consideration of
Since June, the Departments of Natural Resources and the Environment have conducted an
aggressive fish and water quality monitoring program, and evaluated point and non-point
sources of pollution in affected and potentially affected areas. At the same time, our
Agriculture Department has been reviewing farm practices in the Chesapeake watershed.
In addition to our primary focus of protecting the health of our citizens, we also are
working hard to better understand Pfiesteria-like organisms, what causes them to become
toxic and why they harm people and fish. Our scientists, health officials, water
assessment teams and fishery biologists continue to grapple with the many pieces of this
puzzle in order to form a complete picture of these outbreaks and what causes them --
causes that will almost certainly indicate a combination of both natural and man-made
At this point, although we still probably have more questions than there are answers, we
are extremely fortunate to have the nations leading expert on Pfiesteria, Dr. JoAnn
Burkholder, consulting with our research team.
In order to respond more effectively to this issue in Maryland, Governor Glendening
broadened his action plan. Last month, the Governor: created a Blue Ribbon Citizens
Commission, chaired by former Governor and environmentalist Harry Hughes, to meet over the
next several weeks and present recommendations for implementing long-term objectives;
approved a $2 million emergency appropriation of State funds to help farmers plant the
cover crops that help absorb unused crop nutrients; increased State monitoring and
inspection of waterways that exhibit characteristics consistent with those in affected
watersheds; and provided $500,000 in State funds to educate the public on the safety of
Marylands seafood market and ensure the health and viability of this important
As Marylands war on Pfiesteria captured the national spotlight, surrounding
states, as well as Congress and the Clinton Administration joined us in the fight to solve
this problem. On September 19, Governor Glendening hosted a six-state summit on
Pfiesteria. While each state is dealing with its own set of unique circumstances, the
summit participants agreed to: establish a mechanism for exchanging information about
Pfiesteria and how we can reduce the number of toxic incidents we are experiencing;
provide for immediate notification of outbreaks and sharing of information needed to
address the threat to public health threats; establish a regional technical team to work
on reducing future outbreaks of toxic Pfiesteria; and, to work cooperatively in seeking a
federal response to the human and environmental threats posed by Pfiesteria.
Last week our scientific and medical experts, finalized a new protocol for the closing
and reopening of rivers affected by Pfiesteria or Pfiesteria-like events. I am pleased to
note that in accordance with that protocol, Governor Glendening announced the reopening of
the Pocomoke River on Friday, October 3.
At the federal level, the Governor has spoken personally with President Clinton, Vice
President Gore, EPA Administrator Carol Browner and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan
Glickman, as well as members of our Congressional delegation, about the need for a
coordinated federal response to a problem that is much bigger than the State of Maryland.
We are deeply gratified at the rapid and comprehensive response they are preparing.
Congressmen Hoyer and Gilchrest, and Senators Sarbanes and Mikulski have all
demonstrated incredible leadership on this issue. In response to our request, the White
House quickly established an interagency working group to develop a coordinated response.
Already, the federal government has provided $500,000 in emergency assistance from EPA and
NOAA. And an additional $100,000 came from the U.S. Geological Survey.
Federally-supported experts have also been dispatched to help monitor water conditions,
analyze data and investigate the health impacts of Pfiesteria. Working with state health
officers from seven states, the Centers for Disease Control hosted a conference on
Pfiesteria last week in Atlanta. We have also been assured that they are intensifying
Pfiesteria research activities, and working with the Food and Drug Administration, the
National Institutes for Environmental Health Sciences, USDA, EPA, NOAA, the U.S.
Geological Survey, and the Fish and Wildlife Service. We are also hopeful that the
millions of dollars of new money that the House of Representatives has already approved
under the leadership of Congressmen Hoyer and Gilchrest, will be made available to CDC to
better understand the public health effects of Pfiesteria.
Very little national data or information exists on this toxic organism, and the
research required is too massive for any one state to undertake on its own. Federal
technical and financial assistance should be provided to citizens in affected and
potentially affected areas to reduce incidents of future Pfiesteria-like outbreaks.
One area in which the federal government can play a critical role is expanding national
research efforts to help provide our citizens, scientists and public health officials with
a greater understanding of this organism. We must not only determine what causes outbreaks
of Pfiesteria-like organisms in Maryland and elsewhere; we must also definitively
determine what impact Pfiesteria is having on human health, our environment, and on our
Most urgently, we hope that the federal government will extend our State-only efforts
to provide cover crop assistance to our farmers and to support our efforts to market
Maryland seafood in view of recent outbreaks of toxic Pfiesteria.
We are presented with the challenge of assisting our seafood industry, which has
suffered estimated losses of $10 to $15 million thus far this year. While current disaster
relief programs do not provide for such circumstances, one cannot argue that this has not
been a natural disaster. We also ask that the federal government assist the states in
developing improved nutrient management practices and innovative waste management methods,
as well as continuing efforts to upgrade sewage treatment facilities.
Finally, we must work cooperatively to aid those farmers, watermen, poultry growers,
and private citizens whose livelihoods have been adversely affected by recent outbreaks of
toxic Pfiesteria. Specifically, federal technical and financial assistance should be
joined with State researchers to help our citizens protect the public and environmental
health of our State, as well as the livelihoods of those who live and work on the land and
in the waters of Maryland.
In closing, I would like to offer a brief personal statement. One of the reasons I felt
it was so important for me to be here today, is so that I might share with you how this
issue has affected me personally and so many others around me.
I am secretary of natural resources in a state that is proud of its environmental record
and works hard to be environmentally responsible. I am secretary of natural resources in a
state blessed with an incredible national treasure -- the Chesapeake Bay. I am also
secretary of a state whose citizens -- when they see a problem of this magnitude -- expect
answers and deserve a solution.
Unable to provide our citizens with the answers they expect and the solutions they
deserve, I have, since the beginning of the summer, traveled to the site of every toxic
Pfiesteria outbreak in Maryland. I have seen thousands of lesioned fish carcasses floating
on top of what we -- just days before -- believed to be a normal, healthy waterway.
I spend long hours behind closed doors with my colleagues and my Governor, helping to
make the decisions that change the lives of all Marylanders. Everyday, I talk with
watermen who are losing income; tourism representatives who are also suffering
financially; members of the media looking for the answers we cannot yet provide; and
citizens who are afraid to let their children swim in Chesapeake Bay tributaries.
And, with the hope of someday soon finding both the answers, and the solutions, I have
members of my own staff working virtually 24-hours a day in a stressful and possibly
dangerous environment. Today, seven of those staff members are part of the States
medical study with breathing problems and short term memory loss.
In Maryland, the health of our citizens, the quality of our lives and the strength of
our economy depend on the Chesapeake Bay. Mr. Chairman, we need your help to ensure the
health of this national asset, for today and for future generations.