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October 9, 1997

Good morning Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee. I am Robert Perciasepe, Assistant Administrator of the Office of Water, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Thank you for this opportunity to present EPA's efforts to work with our federal, State and local partners regarding the potential risks to human health and safety, as well as the environmental impacts associated with outbreaks of the recently-identified dinoflagellate, Pfiesteria piscicida.

EPA first became concerned with Pfiesteria in the early 1990's when it was identified as a potential cause of massive fish kills in the Neuse River which is part of the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound Estuary Study, one of our Agency's National Estuary Programs (NEP). More recently, incidents in three States have increased the Agency's efforts. These incidents include fish kills and fish with lesions which may be attributable to Pfiesteria in Maryland and Virginia tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, and -- based on monitoring rather than fish kills or lesions -- in the Indian River tributary to the Delaware Inland Bays NEP. Members of the "Pfiesteria complex" of organisms have been identified in coastal and estuarine waters from Delaware to the Gulf of Mexico.

Although the science on the ecology and human health effects associated with Pfiesteria is relatively new, the apparent public health and environmental impacts are immediate, and require immediate response. These impacts, combined with the state of the science concerning Pfiesteria, require a long-term research plan, in addition to strategies for preventing and responding to future outbreaks of Pfiesteria and other harmful algal blooms (HAB), such as red and brown tides. My statement will review briefly what we know about the toxic micro-organisms that cause these outbreaks, then discuss EPA's strategy for addressing these incidents, which includes -- supporting State response efforts; coordinating research with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other federal agencies; and, enhancing prevention activities.

Marine biotoxins and harmful algae represent a significant and expanding threat to human health, marine mammals, and fisheries resources throughout the United States. Although understanding the human health and environmental effects of Pfiesteria is still in the research phase, public health officials and coastal and ocean resource managers have had to increasingly respond to the adverse and sometimes fatal impacts from similar micro-organisms in other parts of the country. In addition to the human health effects potentially associated with Pfiesteria, a variety of human illnesses are associated with other forms of toxic algal blooms and consumption of toxin-contaminated fish or shellfish in the United States. Sea mammals, seabirds and other animals may also be victims of these biotoxins.

In addition to causing human and animal illnesses, the death and decay of algal blooms can lead to oxygen depletion in the water, resulting in widespread mortalities of fish, shellfish, and invertebrates. In addition, macroalgae can proliferate, resulting in displacement of native species and habitat alteration or oxygen depletion. There is strong evidence connecting these algal blooms with nutrient pollution -- excessive nitrogen and phosphorus -- in the water. The sources of these pollutants vary widely from one geographic location to another. However, in general, we see three significant sources: human waste, from septic systems or sewage treatment plants; agricultural runoff, from fertilizer or animal waste; and, air deposition from sources such as utilities and vehicles.

In response to the human health and environmental risks and impacts associated with such marine biotoxins and harmful algae, EPA, NOAA and other federal agencies have been working together with the States to better understand and, ultimately, manage or respond to harmful algal blooms in general, and most recently, to Pfiesteria in particular. EPA, USDA, and other agencies are especially interested in what steps can be taken to reduce nutrient pollution, in an effort to help prevent these outbreaks and their effects. For example, USDA has been conducting research on animal manure and nutrient management for many years to decrease nonpoint source pollution and nutrient enrichment of water.

Support State Responses to Potential Pfiesteria Outbreaks
EPA, along with all of the other relevant federal agencies, is participating in a group led by NOAA's Chesapeake Bay Program Office to coordinate federal activities to help the mid-Atlantic States effectively respond to potential Pfiesteria outbreaks. This group, primarily composed of federal field office representatives, has identified a number of "near-term" or "immediate" activities that are critical to help the States, as well as other activities to help over the longer term. Some of the critical activities include: providing technical experts who can help conduct field sampling and analyze the results; serving as a clearinghouse for technical information to prevent duplication of effort and unnecessary expenditures of State resources; providing information for States to use in their public outreach and education efforts; helping States identify other "at-risk" sites that have a similar profile to those where outbreaks have occurred in an effort to be prepared or to prevent potential Pfiesteria outbreaks; helping States develop response plans for monitoring Pfiesteria outbreaks; and, conducting public outreach and education, and assessing sources of nitrogen and phosphorus (nutrient) pollution that could contribute to Pfiesteria outbreaks. Longer-term activities include workshops to build capacity within the States to continue these activities.

In particular, EPA, through its Chesapeake Bay Program Office, has provided funding to support Maryland's Pfiesteria response effort, including development of the Pocomoke Integrated Response Plan and characterization of nutrient pollution from animal feeding operations in the watershed. The Chesapeake Bay program is also participating in the State of Maryland's Pfiesteria Coordination Team.

Coordinated Federal Research Strategy for Pfiesteria
EPA and many other federal agencies are conducting critical research that will help us understand the human health and environmental effects of Pfiesteria outbreaks, and the environmental factors (nitrogen and phosphorus and other factors) that may contribute to Pfiesteria outbreaks. Both of these areas of research are critical to responding appropriately to Pfiesteria outbreaks in a manner that will protect public health and safety and the environment, while avoiding negative economic impacts. EPA and NOAA are working together to lead a multi-agency group to ensure that there is a well-coordinated federal research strategy for Pfiesteria. This strategy will reflect the research that federal agencies are currently supporting as well as identify the needs and priorities for the future. The goal is to ensure that all our research efforts -- federal, State, and other -- are shared and are complementary, not redundant, and are addressing the key questions as quickly as possible. We expect to have a draft plan available by mid-October that we would then share for review by States, academia, and the public.

In particular, EPA's Office of Research and Development is currently working on several fronts of research that will help shed light on how to prevent and control future outbreaks of Pfiesteria. EPA, along with NOAA, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Office of Naval Research, are jointly funding, over a three-year period, the Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (ECOHAB) research program. Recently-initiated studies in the first round of this competitive peer-reviewed program will contribute to a better understanding of harmful algal blooms, their effects on human health, and the role of nutrients on the growth of HABs. The results of these studies will be useful in assisting resource managers to predict where and when a toxic bloom may occur.

Furthermore, in support of the Interagency Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR), EPA is also participating in the National Environmental Monitoring and Research Initiative. The National Environmental Monitoring and Research Initiative includes a pilot project in the Mid-Atlantic region which is designed to improve our understanding of the linkages among air, land, water, biota, and people; and, it will contribute to better environmental decision-making across the Mid-Atlantic region. This CENR pilot will increase our understanding of cause and effect, and allow us to better document current nutrient levels in Mid-Atlantic estuaries. These are only two of a myriad of examples of EPA research activities that we are coordinating with other federal agencies.

Reduce Nitrogen and Phosphorus Loadings From All Sources
This may be where EPA can make its greatest contribution to addressing the human health, environmental and economic impacts associated with Pfiesteria outbreaks and other harmful algal blooms. Although conclusive evidence has not yet been found to link nitrogen and phosphorus with toxic outbreaks of Pfiesteria, there is a very strong association based on the outbreaks to date. In addition, there has been extensive research and strong evidence that excessive nitrogen and phosphorus levels lead to other harmful algal blooms (some of which are toxic and harmful to human health), such as red and brown tides, and can also lead to low levels of oxygen and fish kills. Therefore, further reducing the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in our nation's waters is imperative to prevent the risks to human health and the environment caused by Pfiesteria outbreaks and other harmful algal blooms.

This is no simple task. The sources of nutrient pollution are many and varied. The sources of nitrogen and phosphorus also vary widely from one geographic location to another. Therefore, the solutions must also be varied; one approach will not suffice.

Specifically, I would like to highlight the following as some of the key areas where EPA believes greater reductions could be achieved in nutrient pollution in the nation's waters: There is no doubt that nonpoint sources of pollution are a serious remaining threat to the health of many of our waters.

EPA is supporting State efforts to improve programs to control run-off from a wide range of nonpoint sources. Many States are upgrading programs to address nine key program elements agreed to by EPA and the States.

We are working towards developing water quality criteria for nitrogen and phosphorus. The issuance of these scientifically-based criteria and their subsequent adoption by States into water quality standards is an important step towards controlling excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the nation's waters.

We will also soon publish draft regulations to further define requirements for some stormwater runoff control from smaller urban areas. Currently, we regulate urban areas with populations of 100,000 or greater. The draft regulations will address smaller cities.

The Chesapeake Bay Program has committed to reducing nitrogen and phosphorus loadings to the Bay by 40% by the year 2000. Each State is developing tributary strategies to meet that goal. Where tributary strategies are in place, the nutrient goals will be achieved. Where strategies are not yet in place, there are statutory deadlines to complete them and to set appropriate goals.

EPA and NOAA are approving State Coastal Nonpoint Programs under Section 6217 of the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments (CZARA) , and we are working with the States to ensure implementation of the programs.

EPA is also increasing controls on air deposition of nitrogen. For example, our recently released revised NAAQS criteria for ozone and particulate matter are one step in reducing the air deposition contribution to nutrient pollution in the nation's waters. We are in the process of identifying and evaluating other such steps.

We support the use of low cost process changes for control of nitrogen and phosphorus at municipal wastewater plants.

EPA has been at the forefront of supporting the development and implementation of site-specific watershed management plans addressing excess nutrient loadings. This includes not only the current 28 National Estuary Programs, the Chesapeake Bay Program, and Gulf of Mexico hypoxia activities, but our assistance to States and local areas in using the watershed approach to address water quality problems. The watershed approach can help tailor the implementation of existing programs and the need for new actions to the problems and sources in that watershed.

EPA will work with USDA and DOI to support habitat restoration, and preservation and establishment of buffers, to help reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loadings from nonpoint sources to susceptible waters.

We support agricultural (including agricultural feeding operations not subject to NPDES permits) and other industries' efforts to voluntarily implement best management practices for reducing nonpoint source runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus.

We are in the process of developing a comprehensive Agency-wide strategy of short and long term actions to improve controls on animal feeding operations throughout the nation. Concentrated animal feeding operations and certain smaller animal feeding operations are considered point sources under the Clean Water Act and subject to NPDES permit requirements.

We recognize that our existing regulations for animal feeding operations, which date to the mid 1970s, can be substantially improved in light of current industry practices and the latest scientific information.

By this Spring, EPA will take a number of actions to improve the adequacy of controls on the estimated 6,000 CAFOs (i.e., greater than 1,000 animal units) and selected smaller AFOs nationwide. EPA will:

In the longer term (2-4 years), I expect EPA will revise its current NPDES regulations and CAFO effluent guidelines to reflect our improved understanding of the environmental and public health concerns that may be related to nutrients from animal feeding operations. We intend to work closely with the various agricultural commodity groups (including animal feed operators and integrators), USDA, and environmental groups.

EPA is also identifying which rivers or estuaries are listed by the States as impaired due to nitrogen and phosphorus or other harmful algal bloom (HAB) indicators (low DO, fecal coliform) and determining whether a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) has been established to adequately reduce the nutrient loadings from all sources.

It appears that waters identified as experiencing Pfiesteria outbreaks to date generally are already listed as impaired for nitrogen and phosphorous. This points to the importance of developing appropriate TMDLs by the States for those waters.

For example, in Maryland, all 10 major watersheds draining to the Chesapeake Bay have been listed as impaired under Section 303(d) for nitrogen and phosphorus. (Some are listed for other impairments as well. For example, the Pocomoke is also listed for sediments and fecal coliform.)

EPA is committed to help every State succeed in fully meeting the requirements of section 303(d) and taking the needed action to implement approved TMDLs. The Agency's policies on TMDL pace and implementation calls for States to develop 8-13 year schedules for developing TMDLs for all waters on section 303(d) lists and for States to implement TMDLs, particularly nonpoint source TMDLs, as revisions to State water quality management plans, coupled with a proposed TMDL, or as part of an equivalent watershed or geographic planning process. At a minimum, each State implementation plan should include:

Another role for EPA is to help protect the health of beach goers through assistance to state, tribal, and local health and environmental officials in strengthening water quality standards, and designing, developing and implementing improved beach monitoring and advisory programs through EPA's Beaches Environmental Assessment, Closure, and Health (BEACH) Program. In fact, we are holding a workshop with stakeholders October 15th and 16th in Annapolis to further development of this program.

EPA is providing access to information on Pfiesteria and potential human health risks through EPA's homepage and EPA's "Surf Your Watershed." The Index of Watershed Indicators, released by the Administrator just last week, will help States, local communities, and the public, better understand the health of their waters.

We will also help States develop response plans and public education and communication expertise and materials to ensure that the health and safety of their citizens is protected during Pfiesteria outbreaks while avoiding undue economic burdens on fishing and tourism industries.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this statement on this important issue. In conclusion, I want to reiterate the Agency's commitment to protecting human health and our nation's coastal and ocean resources from the risks attributable to Pfiesteria and other harmful algal blooms. EPA is actively supporting current State efforts and we are moving forward with other federal agencies on a long-term research and prevention plan. We look forward to working with the Committee further on this important issue. * * *

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