TESTIMONY OF ROBERT PERCIASEPE
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR, OFFICE OF WATER
U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
SUBCOMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT REFORM AND OVERSIGHT
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
September 25, 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 discuss 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 1994 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 the identification -- based on monitoring rather than fish kills or lesions -- of Pfiesteria in the Indian River tributary to the Delaware Inland Bays NEP.
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. In my testimony today I will review briefly what we know about the toxic micro-organisms that cause these outbreaks. Then I will 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. From a public health standpoint, 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, 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 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.
EPA'S RESPONSE TO PFIESTERIA
Support State Responses to Potential Pfiesteria Outbreaks
EPA, along with all of the other relevant federal agencies, is participating on 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.
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 while avoiding negative economic impacts. EPA and NOAA are working together to lead this multi-agency group to ensure that there is a well-coordinated federal research strategy for Pfiesteria.
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. Several studies will contribute to 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 cause the human illnesses and fatalities I mentioned earlier), such as red and brown tides; 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. Therefore, we firmly believe that any new public health policy on this issue needs to consider the reduction of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in our waters.
Specifically, EPA is beginning to review, and where appropriate strengthen, existing programs in the following areas:
Increase implementation of Nonpoint Source Best Management Practices
Work with States and federal Nonpoint Source Program (CWA section 319) partners to strengthen and focus actions to prevent and treat nonpoint source pollution nationwide.
Work with NOAA to assure that State Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments (CZARA) nonpoint source programs are approved and successfully implemented, applying all relevant voluntary and enforceable programs as appropriate to address nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.
Work with the States and USDA to assist farmers in using the appropriate levels of fertilizer to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus in agricultural nonpoint source runoff.
Work with USDA to target Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding to high-priority waters.
Complete our National Nutrient Strategy by around the end of calendar year 1997 to strengthen our ability to assess and control excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the nation's waters. This strategy summarizes the direction the Agency recommends for developing criteria to address over enrichment problems. It is a blueprint that will include state-of-the- science assessment methods, models, Best Management Practices, research needs, and nutrient management plans on a waterbody basis. The strategy also includes development of waterbody-specific guidance documents to more closely address over enrichment issues, and will set criteria values for various eco-regions in the United States.
Address air deposition sources of nitrogen by implementing recent and pending regulations which will reduce air emissions of various forms of nitrogen.
Support and Encourage Voluntary Efforts of State and Local Governments, Watershed Associations and Trade Associations
Support Low Cost Process Changes for Control of Nutrients at Municipal Wastewater Plants. Through the Chesapeake Bay Program's Biological Nutrient Reduction (BNR) pilot studies and assessments, we have determined that a great deal of nutrient reduction can be readily accomplished with low-cost, quick fix applications of BNR technology.
Support the development and implementation of site-specific watershed management plans addressing excess nutrient loadings (e.g., the 28 National Estuary Programs, Chesapeake Bay Program, Gulf of Mexico hypoxia activities).
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.
Support agricultural and other industries' (Pork Producers, U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, Golf Courses) efforts to voluntarily implement best management practices for reducing nonpoint source runoff and air emissions of nitrogen and phosphorus.
Animal Feeding Operations and Manure Management
Complete our Animal Feeding Operations (AFO) Strategy to strengthen implementation of regulatory programs for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) and promote voluntary adoption of BMPs on all AFOs. Specifically:
- assure all CAFOs have effective permits where necessary;
- strengthen current regulations for animal waste discharges by expanding applicability of effluent guidelines and addressing land application in NPDES permits;
- implement existing "case-by-case" permitting authority (regarding smaller AFOs) more effectively; and
- strengthen NPDES enforcement in this area.
Support Development of Innovative Technology for Manure Management. Such technologies may include: electric generating incinerators; pelletizing operations for sale as a commercial product; longer-distance transport through piggy-back operations; composting (or otherwise treating) animal wastes; and developing cost-effective means to return the waste to areas where the animal feed is grown. EPA will work with the USDA which is also conducting research on innovative approaches to manure management.
Develop DELMARVA Peninsula Poultry Pollution Control Strategy by sponsoring facilitated meetings with corporate poultry producers and developing and validating data related to the poultry farm sources. Develop a short-term and long-term strategy, which may include both regulatory and non-regulatory aspects, to address chicken feedlot waste management.
Strengthen and Enforce Nutrient Standards for Point Sources
Identify which rivers or estuaries are listed by the States as impaired due to nutrients or other harmful algal bloom (HAB) indicators (low DO, fecal coliform) and determine whether a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) has been established to adequately reduce the nutrient loadings from all sources. Where necessary, EPA can work with the State to develop an appropriate TMDL to effectively reduce nutrient loadings. A TMDL Protocol document is being developed to provide information on establishing TMDLs for nutrient-related water quality impairment.
Provide facility compliance assistance and enforcement in affected watersheds. The compliance assistance visits would be conducted in consultation with States and would enable EPA to understand the nature of the operations in targeted watersheds, to inform the operators of applicable pollution prevention or control techniques, to inform them of the environmental statutes which may govern their operation and to guide them towards full voluntary compliance as appropriate. Where major violations become known, EPA in consultation with the State, could initiate enforcement actions to reduce illegal release of pollutants.
Publicly-Owned Treatment Works (POTW). Continue to address nitrogen, phosphorus and ammonia releases from POTWs.
Combined Sewer Overflows/Stormwater Management. Continue to improve CSO and stormwater management.
Support State, Tribal and Local Public Health Protection Programs
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 beach monitoring and advisory programs through EPA's Beaches Environmental Assessment, Closure, and Health (BEACH) Program.
Empower the Public to Protect Their Own Health and Safety
Provide access to information on Pfiesteria and potential human health risks through EPA's homepage and EPA's "Surf Your Watershed," a World Wide Web-based service to help both professionals and citizens locate, use and share environmental information on their watersheds and communities (http://www.epa.gov/surf).
As previously mentioned, 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 testify 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. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
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