Bay Journal

October 1997 - Volume 7 - Number 7

Many question just what is 40% goal

After a yearlong re-examination of regional nutrient reduction efforts, it is clear that progress has been made in reducing the amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen entering the Chesapeake-long the centerpiece of the Bay restoration effort.

At the same time, it appears the Bay states will fall short of their nitrogen reduction goal set for the year 2000. Just how short depends on the answer to a question: What is the goal? It can be interpreted two different ways.

Regardless of the answer to that question, many wonder whether either option will achieve the goal of the 1987 Bay Agreement, which is to "provide for the restoration and protection of the living resources, their habitats and ecological relationships." ...

American Heritage Rivers seeking nominations

Declaring rivers "the lifeblood of our nations," President Clinton launched an effort in September to designate 10 waterways as American Heritage Rivers that will get extra federal attention.

A designation under the program will allow communities, through a liaison called a "river navigator," to tap existing federal resources and expertise in protecting and restoring the waterway. The first designations were expected to be made early next year.

"Today we are going to rededicate our country to restoring our river heritage and to reaffirm one of our oldest values, the importance of safeguarding our national treasures for all generations to come," Clinton said. ...

Watershed groups unite to save rivers, Bay

Watershed groups throughout the Chesapeake drainage are calling on the Chesapeake Executive Council to reaffirm its commitment to meeting nutrient reduction goals in a timely manner and to provide adequate support for river protection and restoration efforts.

The "Declaration for Our Rivers" is a pledge from local watershed organizations to "act as the stewards and keepers" of creeks and rivers in the region, while asking for a similar commitment from the governors of Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, the EPA administrator, the mayor of the District of Columbia and the chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, who make up the Executive Council. ...

Groups furious over EPA ruling on airborne water pollution

In a finding that angered environmental groups, the EPA has determined that no additional specific actions are warranted at this time to protect the nation's water bodies, including the Chesapeake Bay, from air pollution.

The agency, after completing a report to Congress about the impacts of airborne deposition on the "Great Waters" of the United States, concluded that "no further emissions standards or control measures" were needed beyond those already being implemented.

"We have not concluded that we need additional regulations beyond those that are in the Clean Air Act but we continue to study this issue," said Nancy Sutley, an EPA clean air policy adviser. "We believe those standards that are in effect will help a great deal. We need to do some more research and understand better the problem." ...

Six states unite in effort to combat pfiesteria

Amidst warnings that a tiny, fish-killing microbe is the "canary in the coal mine" warning about problems in the Bay and nearby coastal areas, governors from six states have agreed to act together in combating future outbreaks of pfiesteria.

Their meeting was the latest sign of how the tiny microbe, which can only be identified by experts using special high-powered microscopes, has moved into the environmental spotlight.

At a Sept. 19 meeting of the governors of four states, and senior representatives from two others, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening said the microbe is warning of wider environmental problems just like the canaries carried by miners into the shaft to alert them of gas leaks. ...

Draft recovery plan completed for shortnose sturgeon

The endangered shortnose sturgeon, which has been reported sporadically in the Chesapeake Bay for more than a century, may finally be on the road to recovery.

Thirty years after being declared an endangered species, a draft recovery plan has been completed for the fish, which lives predominantly in large, East Coast rivers and grows to about 4 feet in length.

But don't look for too many sturgeon anytime soon. Largely because the species is slow to reproduce, the plan says the population is unlikely to reach a healthy level before 2024. ...

Declaration for Our Rivers

The rivers, streams and creeks of the Chesapeake Bay watershed are the lifeblood of our region. Their condition determines the health of the Bay, affects the quality of human life and strengthens the economy of the region. We believe that we must learn to view rivers and watersheds as the central features in our landscape rather than as political boundaries and we must organize our efforts to manage human activities along watershed lines. In the past decade, promises have been made to protect, restore and enhance water quality and the abundance and diversity of living things and to improve the decision-making processes that allowed our rivers and creeks, and the communities they support, to degrade. ...

Scientists closing in on causes of pfiesteria outbreaks

Scientists may be moving closer toward understanding the conditions that triggered the microbe Pfiesteria piscicida to turn deadly in the Pocomoke River, killing thousands of fish this summer.

At the same time, biologists analyzing past fish lesion records suspect the presence of the microbe is nothing new in the Bay, as pfiesteria-like lesions have been found sporadically in routine fish samples dating back at least to 1984, according to researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. ...

Pfiesteria Facts

Facts about Pfiesteria piscicida:

  • Pfiesteria piscicida (fee-STEER-ee-uh pis-kuh-SEED-uh), first discovered in 1988, occurs naturally in the environment.
  • Laboratory research indicates pfiesteria can exist in up to 24 life stages, four of which may be toxic.
  • Pfiesteria is a type of phytoplankton known as a dinoflagellate, which means they have a whip-like tail called a flagella which allows them to propel themselves, unlike some other types of algae which can only float. Pfiesteria, though, do not perform photosynthesis and instead survive by eating other organisms, usually algae.
  • Under specific conditions, such as high nutrient levels and the presence of large schools of fish, pfiesteria's population increases. This is referred to as a "bloom." During a bloom, pfiesteria may produce toxins that numb fish, allowing the microbe to feed on them. High concentrations of pfiesteria can cause deep lesions on fish, and may kill them. Blooms exist only for short periods of time, usually a few hours at most.
  • Blooms of pfiesteria may not result in fish kills or lesions. Pfiesteria may spend its entire life feeding harmlessly on bacteria and algae. It is not well understood what environmental factors cause pfiesteria to produce harmful toxins. In the laboratory, toxic pfiesteria blooms are induced by nutrient enrichment and large amounts for fresh fish excrement.
  • Pfiesteria has been the cause of several massive fish kills in nutrient-enriched (elevated levels of phosphorus and nitrogen) estuaries along coastal North Carolina. In most of these fish kills, large schools of menhaden were present in warm, shallow, partially land-locked waters.
  • No cases of seafood poisoning have been reported from eating fish exposed to pfiesteria. Nor has there been evidence of tainted shellfish, oysters or crabs on the market. But research in this area is not extensive. Because of this uncertainty, consumers should take normal precautions and use common sense: Never eat fish that exhibit evidence of sores or disease. Do not eat fish that seem diseased or dying when caught.
  • Well-documented human health effects linked to pfiesteria have occurred in laboratory conditions where researchers were working with the organism in close proximity and in high concentrations. Others, including anglers, a water-skier and those monitoring fish kills, have also complained of skin lesions and other health effects, such as headaches, lightheadedness and short-term memory loss.
  • For information about pfiesteria, there are several good sources on the World Wide Web.
  • ,

Among them:

North Carolina State University:

Maryland Sea Grant:

Virginia Institute of Marine Science: ...

NOx in the Air: Multiple Effects

The emission of nitrogen oxides into the air can contribute to a wide range of human health and environmental impacts. Its contribution to some problems are better understood than others.Those identified as being of concern in a recent EPA report include:

  • Ground-level ozone. NOx reacts with volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight to form ozone, a key component of smog. Ozone contributes to a variety of respiratory problems for the young, elderly, those with lung ailments or people who exert themselves during periods of high ozone concentrations in the air.
  • Acid deposition. Sulfur dioxide and NOx are the two key air pollutants that cause acid rain. Acid rain can change soil chemistry which, in turn, can reduce growth in some trees, as well as their ability to resist disease. As lakes and streams become acidified, they may lose fish biodiversity, including some sensitive species such as trout. Sudden acidic "pulses" can release aluminum-which is highly toxic to fish-into streams, especially during spring spawning periods when rain and snow melt contribute large amounts of acid at once. It can damage a wide range of materials, from galvanized steel and copper to stone in buildings and monuments.
  • Drinking water nitrate. High nitrate levels in drinking water is a health hazard, particularly for infants, as it can contribute to the "blue baby" syndrome. High levels in water may also increase cancer risks for all ages. Atmospheric nitrogen deposition in sensitive watersheds can increase stream water nitrate concentrations, where it can remain in the water and be carried long distances downstream.
  • Global warming. Nitrous oxide, a breakdown form of NOx,is a greenhouse gas, and anthropogenic emissions contribute about 2 percent of the "greenhouse effect" relative to total anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases in the United States.
  • Nitrogen dioxide. Exposure to NO2, another breakdown form of NOx, is associated with a variety of acute and chronic health effects. Those of most concern include mild changes in airway responsiveness and pulmonary function in individuals with pre-existing respiratory illnesses as well as an increase in respiratory illnesses in children. All areas of the United States monitoring NO2 are below the EPA's threshold for health effects.
  • Nitrogen saturation of terrestrial ecosystems. Nitrogen can accumulate in watersheds with high atmospheric deposition. In most ecosystems, nitrogen deposition has a fertilizing effect that accelerates plant growth. Although this is often considered beneficial, it can also cause adverse changes such as shifts in plant species composition, decreases in species diversity and nitrate leaching to surface and ground waters. Studies in prairie ecosystems have shown that increased nitrogen loadings lead to an increased abundance of nonnative species, the loss of native species and the disruption of ecosystem functioning. Some trees and plants in nitrogen-saturated areas may be more susceptible to insect and disease attacks.
  • Particulate matter. NOx compounds react with other compounds in the atmosphere to form nitrate particles and acid aerosols. Because of their small size, nitrate particles have the ability to be transported hundreds, even thousands, of miles though the atmosphere. Small particles can also penetrate deeply in the lungs where they may contribute to a range of adverse health effects.
  • Stratospheric ozone depletion. Stratospheric ozone protects people, plants and animals on the Earth's surface from ultraviolet radiation. Nitrous oxide, which is very stable in the lower atmosphere (troposphere) slowly migrates to the stratosphere where solar radiation breaks it into nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen (N). The NO reacts with ozone to form nitrogen dioxide and molecular oxygen, so additional nitrous oxide emissions would result in some decrease in stratospheric ozone.
  • Toxic products. Airborne particles derived from NOx emissions react in the atmosphere to form various nitrogen-containing compounds, some of which may be mutagenic.
  • Visibility and regional haze. NOx emissions lead to the formation of compounds that can interfere with the transmission of light, limiting visual range and color discrimination. Most visibility and regional haze problems can be traced to airborne particles in the atmosphere that include carbon compounds, nitrate and sulfate aerosols and soil dust. The major cause of visibility impairment in the eastern United States is sulfates, while in the West the other particle types play a greater role.


Report outlines harmful impacts of NOx emissions

From acid rain and global warming to hazy skies and cloudy waters, there is one form of pollutant that shares at least some of the blame: nitrogen oxides.

A byproduct of fossil fuel combustion, NOx was barely on the radar screen of air quality regulators only a decade ago but is now implicated in at least 11 human health and environmental concerns, according to a new EPA report.

With nitrogen oxides now a major target for air pollution reductions, the report was undertaken to ensure that new regulations address the "unusually broad range of detrimental effects" resulting from NOx emissions. ...

They’re here!

While stories of a fish-killing, human-sickening phytoplankton that lives in the Bay have dominated news about the Chesapeake lately, the fact that such organisms live here is hardly news at all.

Over the years, scientists have identified plenty of questionable characters floating around the Bay.

There are several members of the family Dinophysis, which are known to contaminate shellfish in other parts of the country.

There are members of the family Pseudo-nitzschia, which can contaminate shellfish and, in other parts of the world, have caused short-term amnesia in humans. ...

Coastal Creeps

These are some of the organisms responsible for harmful algae blooms in U.S. coastal waters:

  • Gymnodinium breve, a dinoflagellate, produces neurotoxic shellfish poisoning along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico and, rarely, the southeast Atlantic Coast.
  • Various species of the dinoflagellate genus Alexandrium are responsible for paralytic shellfish poisoning in New England, Northern California, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.
  • Aureococcus anaphagefferens, a small, golden brown algae, is responsible for brown tide bloom in southern New England, particularly Long Island, and in New York and Texas. Aureoumbra lagunensis, a similar species, causes blooms in Texas bays and lagoons.
  • Blooms of various species of the diatom genus Pseudo-nitzschia produce domoic acid that causes amnesiac shellfish poisoning on the Northwest, East and Gulf Coasts.
  • The raphidophyte flagellate Heterosigma akashiwo and a few species of the diatom genus Chaetoceros cause catastrophic losses of cultured and wild fish, particularly in the Pacific Northwest.

Sources: Maryland Sea Grand and "Harmful Algal Blooms in Coastal Waters" produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coastal Ocean Program ...

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