Cryptosporidium found in oysters harvested from Chesapeake Bay

A parasite spread through human or animal feces has been found in oysters at commercial harvest sites in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, researchers say.

Cryptosporidium was found in oysters harvested from seven sites around Maryland, researchers say. The parasite contributed to more than 100 deaths and sickened 400,000 after it turned up in Milwaukee’s drinking water in 1993.

The test involved 30 oysters collected in the fall of 1997 and the winter and fall of last year from beds in Wicomico, Nanticoke, Potomac and Patuxent rivers, as well as Fishing Bay and Tangier Sound. Testing was conducted at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The study found the oysters had Cryptosporidium species found in both cows and people. Oysters retain the parasite in their gills, through which they filter water to feed.

No recent cases of poisoning have been traced to oysters, scientists said, but they cautioned against eating raw oysters. Cooking them can kill the parasite.

State officials said that oysters posed no danger. “There is no public health risk from Maryland oysters,” said Bill Sieling of the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

The study was conducted by researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the School of Hygiene, the CDC and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

The scientists were following up on a 1997 report that found the Crypto-sporidium parasite in oyster beds near sewer pipes and cattle farms.

“We wanted to continue this work to find out if Cryptosporidium was also present at commercial sites,” said Thaddeus K. Graczyk of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

In both studies, the incidence of the parasite varied from oyster bed to oyster bed with no apparent pattern, said USDA scientist James Trout.

The parasite, which does not respond to disinfectants, causes most people simply to become ill and suffer cramps and intestinal disorders. But for people with weakened immune systems, such as AIDS patients, Cryptosporidium easily can be fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It is found in many foreign countries and is the leading cause of traveler’s diarrhea.

The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the CDC’s journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Third of PA fish species in trouble

Pennsylvania now considers a third of all the fish native to the Commonwealth to be threatened or endangered within the state’s borders.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, after months of delay, this summer adopted a controversial proposal to update, and expand, the state’s rare fish list.

The expansion of the list from 46 to 54 had been hotly opposed by several mining, oil and other interests who feared the change would lead to more regulation. Though originally proposed in August 1998, the commission did not approve the new list until July, after numerous extensions were made to allow further input.

In the end, the commission’s 9-to-1 vote adopted the original recommendation unchanged.

Scientists said the changed listing does not necessarily mean that water quality has gotten worse in the state, but reflects improved information.

The new list resulted from the largest-ever survey completed by scientists at the Pennsylvania State University, who assembled more than 11,000 records of fish species and locations throughout the state.

Still, said Andrew Shiels, the commission’s Nongame and Endangered Species Unit Leader, “Although there are improvements in water quality, certainly not enough has been done yet, or we wouldn’t have any of these problems.”

The action tripled the number considered endangered, from nine to 28. It also lists 15 as threatened, and 11 as candidates for future listing.

PA program cleans up 500th industrial site in 4 years

A Pennsylvania program has cleaned up 500 industrial sites in four years, making the state a national leader in replacing polluted mills and factories with new businesses, Gov. Tom Ridge said.

Roughly 15,000 people are now working at sites once deemed decaying and dirty “brownfields,” Ridge said. The state has another 500 polluted sites scheduled for cleaning, and other states’ leaders have contacted him about copying Pennsylvania’s success, he added.

“It’s the most aggressive and successful program in the country,” Ridge said.

Environmental Protection Secretary James M. Seif declined to estimate the cost of the 500 cleanups, but said private companies had covered almost all of the expenses.

The 500th site cleaned up was the Keystone Distribution Center in Penn Township in York County. The d-Elias/TSI Soccer Distribution Center moved in, creating 240 jobs.

When Keystone closed its warehouse operation in 1992, soils on a portion of the site were contaminated with lead, decloro-ethene and other petroleum contaminants. The soils were cleaned under the program called the Land Recycling Program, Ridge said.

But Pennsylvania Sierra Club lobbyist Jeff Schmidt gave the program mixed reviews. He said many of the 500 sites were treated under the state’s Land Recycling Act, which has broad provisions protecting new property owners from future lawsuits because of hidden pollution.

“In some cases there are legitimate cleanups being done and those are getting back into use, and that’s a good thing,” he said. “In other cases the sites are not being cleaned up, they’re being covered up. And the contamination is now being left for future generations to deal with.”

And some sites that qualify as brownfields, mostly in northeast Pennsylvania, are only single utility poles in ground polluted with PCB, Schmidt said. That makes the state’s accomplishment seem larger than it actually is, he said.

Maryland closes landmark deal to purchase wetlands, forest

Maryland, the Conservation Fund and the Richard King Mellon Foundation on Sept. 10 completed the largest land deal in the state’s history, purchasing a combined 58,000 acres of forest and wetlands on the Eastern Shore to protect it from development.

The deal includes the $16.5 million sale of 29,000 acres to the state. The Mellon Foundation purchased the other 29,000 acres on which it will develop sustainable forestry operations.

The Conservation Fund, which negotiated the transaction, is also purchasing 9,000 acres each in Delaware and Virginia.

The 76,000 total acres across the Delmarva Peninsula were previously owned by Chesapeake Forest Products Co. More than 11,000 acres are unaltered wetlands deemed “ecologically valuable” by the state Department of Natural Resources

The land deal ensures protection for wildlife habitat by halting development and restricting logging practices except under the management plan.

The Conservation Fund and Mellon Foundation will turn over their land to the state after several years.

Canada geese hunting ban to remain in effect in MD, DE

Maryland’s ban on hunting Canada geese will remain in effect this hunting season, state officials said.

“We asked hunters what they thought about a limited season, and a strong majority of hunters who responded were opposed to opening a season which would allow fewer than half of Maryland’s waterfowl hunters to participate,” said Natural Resources Secretary Sarah Taylor-Rogers.

“In addition, many hunters said they thought waiting to open the season would enable a more rapid recovery of this valuable species.”

Delaware has also decided not to lift its ban for similar reasons.

Maryland has banned killing migrant Canada geese since the late 1980s, when their numbers were decimated by overhunting and the destruction of habitat by development. The population has been rebounding since the closure.

Virginia oyster harvest on the rise

Virginia’s oyster harvest significantly increased over the past fiscal year, especially on the James River.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission said in August that at least 18,590 bushels of market-size oysters were collected from public grounds in 1998-99 — the biggest haul in five years.

The James River produced a strong crop of “seed oysters,” with nearly 32,000 bushels of baby bivalves gathered and moved elsewhere to grow. The take was almost 10 times the 1997-98 figure.

Officials attributed the upturn mostly to good weather and a restocking program that continues to produce large numbers of healthy, disease-tolerant oysters in rivers around the Chesapeake Bay. Pollution, disease, habitat loss and overharvesting had depleted oyster stocks for a number of years.

“We’re at least headed in the right direction,” said Jim Wesson, state director of oyster restoration who proposed opening more public grounds to harvests next season. The commission was to have voted on the proposal in late September.