oversight

Environmental Protection: Coordinated Federal Efforts Are Being Undertaken to Address Harmful Algae

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-06-30.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                  United States General Accounting Office

GAO               Report to Congressional Committees




June 1999
                  ENVIRONMENTAL
                  PROTECTION
                  Coordinated Federal
                  Efforts Are Being
                  Undertaken to Address
                  Harmful Algae




GAO/RCED-99-192
                   United States
GAO                General Accounting Office
                   Washington, D.C. 20548

                   Resources, Community, and
                   Economic Development Division

                   B-282701

                   June 30, 1999

                   The Honorable John Mica
                   Chairman, Subcommittee on Criminal Justice,
                   Drug Policy, and Human Resources
                   Committee on Government Reform
                   House of Representatives

                   The Honorable Christopher Shays
                   Chairman, Subcommittee on National Security,
                   Veterans Affairs, and International Relations
                   Committee on Government Reform
                   House of Representatives

                   Dear Mr. Chairman:

                   Outbreaks of the toxic algae Pfiesteria in the Chesapeake Bay and in North
                   Carolina estuaries have received national attention. These outbreaks are
                   part of a larger problem of harmful algae that represent a significant and
                   expanding threat to human health and marine resources along the U.S.
                   coastline and around the world. While marine algae are present in all
                   oceans and coastal areas, they become a problem when certain species
                   rapidly multiply, leading to large blooms that can produce toxins.1

                   In light of harmful algae’s potential threat, you requested that we
                   (1) discuss the available information on harmful algae and their effects on
                   human health and the environment and (2) describe the status of federal
                   efforts to address the problem of harmful algae, particularly the
                   coordination of research and management strategies among the federal
                   agencies.


                   According to the most current research, the toxins produced by harmful
Results in Brief   algae can affect human health and marine ecosystems in various ways.
                   These toxins—among the most potent chemical compounds known—can
                   kill or injure fish that come in direct contact with them and can
                   accumulate in the tissues of fish and shellfish at levels that are harmful or
                   lethal when ingested by larger fish, sea birds, marine mammals, or
                   humans. Symptoms of algae poisoning in humans are neurological
                   (headaches, dizziness, memory loss, and impairment of motor function);
                   gastrointestinal; and cardiovascular. With respect to marine ecosystems,

                   1
                    For purposes of this report, we use the term “harmful algae” to refer to these blooms.



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             as the algae outgrow the nutrients available to sustain them, their blooms
             die, and their decomposition depletes the concentration of dissolved
             oxygen in the water. The lack of oxygen causes the death of aquatic
             organisms present in marine ecosystems. Outbreaks of harmful algae
             appear to be increasing in scope, frequency, and intensity, and their
             economic impacts are likely to increase.

             Federal efforts to protect the public from harmful algae started in 1992
             with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s sponsorship
             of a workshop for government agencies and other research organizations.
             This workshop led to the publication of a report entitled Marine Biotoxins
             and Harmful Algae: A National Plan. Prior to 1992, federal efforts were
             generally restricted to responding on a case-by-case basis to new
             outbreaks. The national plan set in place an ongoing interagency process
             for addressing certain objectives and resulted, in 1996, in the
             establishment of an interagency coordination program. Under this
             program, five federal agencies have provided approximately $22 million
             for basic research projects directed at better understanding the scientific
             uncertainties associated with harmful algae. Although the initial research
             projects were funded in 1997, outbreaks of Pfiesteria in the Chesapeake
             Bay focused national attention on the problem and resulted in the funding
             of additional projects in 1998. Since most projects are long-term research
             efforts, significant progress in protecting public health and the
             environment may be many years away. A scientific panel also
             recommended, in 1997, the creation of a program to complement basic
             research efforts by focusing on the coordination of federal efforts to
             prevent, mitigate, and control harmful algae. After finding that little has
             been done at the federal level to prevent and control harmful algae, , the
             Congress enacted the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and
             Control Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-383, Nov. 13, 1998), which required the
             creation of an interagency task force to address the problem.


             Over the past 25 years, the observed incidence and intensity of harmful
Background   algae have increased substantially. Marine biotoxins and harmful algae
             have affected coastal ecosystems throughout the United States and the
             world. Marine algae, which are present in all ocean and coastal areas, are
             generally benign and form a critical part of the food web. Among the
             thousands of species of algae, only a few dozen are known to produce
             toxins or conditions that adversely affect other marine life, wildlife, and
             humans. Scientists have not identified all the factors that cause some algae
             species to shift from benign to toxic forms.



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                       When conditions (nutrients, temperature, ocean currents) are favorable,
                       the algae population rapidly increases. Although the reasons for harmful
                       algae in U.S. waters are unclear, some possibilities include natural
                       transportation by tides and currents and the transportation of algae
                       species in ships’ ballast water. Available data also indicate that algae
                       increase in areas where there is an abundance of nutrients, such as
                       phosphorus and nitrogen, in the water, and these increases can include
                       increases in harmful species. These nutrients largely result from human
                       activities, such as increases in animal waste because of concentrated
                       animal agriculture, farm and urban runoff, sewage, and other types of
                       pollution. We have previously reported on the impacts of animal waste and
                       other types of nonpoint-source water pollution.2

                       Harmful algae have significant economic impacts, including the costs to
                       federal, state, and local governments for conducting research and
                       monitoring programs and expenditures for the medical treatment of
                       exposed populations. Economic losses are difficult to estimate and
                       fluctuate widely from year to year. While an estimate of the annual
                       economic impacts resulting from harmful algae in the United States is still
                       being developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
                       Administration’s (NOAA) National Office for Marine Biotoxins and Harmful
                       Algal Blooms, preliminary analyses indicate an average annual impact of
                       over $42 million for 1987 through 1993. These estimated losses are
                       attributed to reduced harvests of shellfish and fish, reductions in seafood
                       sales, and reductions in tourism-related businesses. Harmful algae can
                       have significant economic impacts on the individual areas affected. In fact,
                       1997 Pfiesteria outbreaks in the Chesapeake Bay resulted in the collapse
                       of Chesapeake seafood sales and boat charters, causing an estimated
                       $43 million in losses for watermen, seafood dealers, and restaurants.
                       According to the Deputy Director of NOAA’s Coastal Ocean Office, harmful
                       algae outbreaks are increasing in scope, frequency, and intensity, and the
                       annual economic impacts are likely to continue to increase.


                       Harmful algae represent a significant and expanding threat to human
Harmful Algae Can      health and marine environments in the United States. According to the
Adversely Affect       Director of NOAA’s National Office for Marine Biotoxins and Harmful Algal
Human Health and the   Blooms, humans are vulnerable to illness from consuming fish or shellfish
                       contaminated with the toxins produced by harmful algae, or in some
Environment            cases, from contact with the skin or from inhaling spray from water

                       2
                        See Water Quality: Federal Role in Addressing and Contributing to Nonpoint Source Pollution
                       (GAO/RCED-99-45; Feb. 26, 1999); and Animal Agriculture: Information on Waste Management and
                       Water Quality Issues (GAO/RCED-95-200BR; Jun. 28, 1995).



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                              contaminated with toxins from harmful algae. Large quantities of fish and
                              marine mammals, turtles, and birds that come in direct contact with the
                              toxins produced by harmful algae can be killed or injured. In addition, the
                              algae can alter marine habitats, including degrading aquatic vegetation and
                              phytoplankton3. Because aquatic vegetation and phytoplankton are the
                              foundation of the marine food chain, their decline decreases the overall
                              ecological productivity of an affected area.


Impacts on Human Health       NOAA has reported that algae are responsible for significant health
                              problems in the United States and the world. The toxins they produce are
                              among the most potent chemical compounds known. Humans are exposed
                              to these toxins primarily when they consume contaminated seafood. The
                              consumption of a single clam or mussel contaminated with certain algal
                              toxins can be fatal.4 Some of the more common human illnesses caused by
                              these toxins are discussed below. See figure 1 for the affected areas.

                          •   Paralytic shellfish poisoning is a life threatening illness associated with the
                              consumption of shellfish or certain fish containing a class of algal toxins
                              that affect the neurological system. Symptoms appear shortly after eating
                              the food, and in the most severe cases, respiratory arrest occurs within 24
                              hours. With medical support, victims usually recover within 12 hours.
                              Large-scale monitoring programs to identify toxin levels in mussels,
                              oysters, scallops, and other shellfish and the rapid closure of harvest areas
                              suspected of containing toxin-infested waters are the methods used to
                              address the problem. All of the coastal New England states and much of
                              the West Coast, from Alaska to California, have been affected.
                          •   Neurotoxic shellfish poisoning affects individuals who eat shellfish that
                              have accumulated a class of algal toxins called brevetoxins. Although
                              there are no reported human deaths from neurotoxic shellfish poisoning,
                              the poisoning causes severe gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms.
                              Also, individuals who come into contact with this toxin through sea spray
                              experience asthma-like symptoms. Beach clean-up efforts and public
                              health advisories are used to manage fish kills and other ecological
                              problems associated with the toxin-producing algae. The states that are
                              most affected include Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.
                          •   Amnesic shellfish poisoning, a sometimes fatal illness, results in a variety
                              of gastrointestinal and neurological disorders, including nausea,


                              3
                              Phytoplankton (small plant organisms) are algae that include harmful species that float or drift in the
                              water.
                              4
                               The Food and Drug Administration provides public information and education on its Seafood Hotline
                              (1-800-332-4010) and web page (www.foodsafety.gov).



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    abdominal cramps, dizziness, seizures, disorientation, respiratory
    difficulty, and short-term memory loss. Research has shown that domoic
    acid, the toxin responsible for amnesic poisoning, accumulates in fish,
    crabs, and other fisheries resources, and in marine mammals, making it a
    significant risk to humans. The toxin was first identified in Canada in 1987
    and has been detected in shellfish from both the west and east coasts of
    the United States and in the Gulf of Mexico. Incidents of amnesic shellfish
    poisonings have increased in recent years.
•   Ciguatera fish poisoning is associated with algal toxins called ciguatoxins,
    which accumulate in tropical fish. Victims experience gastrointestinal,
    neurological, and cardiovascular symptoms. While incidences of paralysis
    and death have been documented, the symptoms are usually less severe
    and will either subside within a few days or continue for several years.
    Information reported to the Department of Health and Human Services’
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that ciguatera fish
    poisoning is responsible for about half of all seafood poisonings in the
    United States. Ciguatera poisoning is estimated to affect up to 50 percent
    of the people living in tropical and subtropical states and territories, such
    as the U. S. Virgin Islands.
•   Pfiesteria and closely related organisms have been linked to massive fish
    kills and to living fish with open, bleeding lesions or erratic behavior.
    Researchers exposed to mist from laboratory tanks containing toxic
    Pfiesteria experienced severe memory problems and other neurological
    and pulmonary effects that persisted for months to years. People who have
    been in contact with affected waterways during a Pfiesteria outbreak have
    experienced memory loss, headache, skin lesions, and burning sensations
    on the skin. Pfiesteria and Pfiesteria-like species have been identified in
    estuaries from Delaware to Florida.




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Figure 1: Distribution of Toxic Algae in the United States




       Paralytic shellfish poisoning

       Neurotoxic shellfish poisoning

       Amnesic shellfish poisoning

       Ciguatera fish poisoning

       Toxic Pfiesteria



                                            Source: National Ocean Service, Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular
                                            Research.




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Effects on Marine   Algal toxins present major ecological threats to marine environments.
Ecosystems          Different types of harmful algae can affect marine ecosystems. Red tides5
                    have been linked to massive fish kills in the Gulf of Mexico. They are
                    found most frequently along Florida’s west coast, where they were noted
                    as early as 1844. In the 50 years between 1946 and 1996, 42 red tides were
                    observed along Florida’s west coast. During a red tide, it is common to
                    find dead birds and fish. Red tides have also been blamed for the deaths of
                    large numbers of dolphins and manatees, including more than 150
                    endangered manatees in Florida in 1996. In 1997, an estimated 21 million
                    fish were killed by a red tide off the Texas coast. (See fig. 2.)




                    5
                     The term “red tide” refers to the concentration of algae that colors the water.



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Figure 2: Dead Fish From Red Tides on the Florida and Texas Coasts




Dead Fish in Red Tide Off the Florida Coast                               Beached Dead Fish Caused by a Texas Red Tide

                                              Sources: National Office for Marine Biotoxins and Harmful Algal Blooms,Woods Hole
                                              Oceanographic Institution and ECOHAB, A National Research Agenda, photo by Brazosports




                                              Pfiesteria has also been implicated in significant environmental events in
                                              the coastal waters of the Mid-Atlantic States. The toxins produced by the
                                              Pfiesteria organism are believed to have killed more than one billion fish




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                                      in the coastal waters of North Carolina and more than 30,000 fish in
                                      coastal tributaries in Maryland. Fish exposed to Pfiesteria are stunned and
                                      develop sores. (See fig. 3.) Pfiesteria and Pfiesteria-like organisms have
                                      been identified in the waters from Delaware to Florida.


Figure 3: Fish Killed by Pfiesteria




                                      Source: Dr. JoAnn Burkholder, Aquatic Botany Laboratory, North Carolina State University.




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                         Even those algae that do not produce toxins can be dangerous to the
                         marine environment. For example, as they use up the nutrients needed to
                         sustain them, the algae die and decompose, depleting dissolved oxygen in
                         the water and causing hypoxia—low oxygen concentrations—and
                         anoxia—no oxygen. Large hypoxic areas, or dead zones, such as the one
                         that forms each year in the northern Gulf of Mexico, result from the death
                         of massive but largely nontoxic harmful algae.


                         Coordinated federal efforts to protect the public from harmful algae
Coordinated Federal      started in 1992 with a workshop sponsored by the National Oceanic and
Efforts Are Being        Atmospheric Administration. This workshop led to the 1993 publication of
Undertaken               a report entitled Marine Biotoxins and Harmful Algae: A National Plan.
                         Prior to 1992, federal efforts were generally restricted to responding on a
                         case-by-case basis to new outbreaks of harmful algae. The national plan
                         set in place an ongoing interagency process for addressing the objectives
                         set out in the plan and resulted, in 1996, in the creation of the interagency
                         Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms (ECOHAB) program.

                         While the objectives in the national plan (see below) are still current,
                         funding limitations have delayed the start of many of the projects
                         addressing the objectives. For example, the ECOHAB program began funding
                         several large regional projects in 1997. At the same time, however, the
                         outbreaks of Pfiesteria in Maryland during the summer of 1997 tended to
                         focus national attention on the need to take action against harmful algae,
                         and, as a result, additional projects were funded in 1998. Because most of
                         these projects have only recently gotten under way and have multiyear
                         time frames, significant progress in protecting the public from harmful
                         algae is still many years away.


Coordinated Efforts to   The 1992 NOAA sponsored workshop brought scientists and regulatory
Learn About and Manage   officials together to address the problems of harmful algae. This workshop
the Effects of Harmful   resulted in the 1993 publication of a national plan—Marine Biotoxins and
                         Harmful Algae: A National Plan—for conducting basic research and
Algae                    developing management and mitigation strategies to protect the public and
                         the environment from problems associated with harmful algae. In the plan,
                         representatives from federal and state government, academia, and industry
                         stated that the U. S. research, monitoring, and regulatory infrastructure is
                         not adequate to meet the expanding threats from harmful algae and
                         established the goal of effectively managing fisheries, public health, and
                         ecosystem problems. According to the plan, the following eight specific



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    research objectives must be addressed to comprehensively evaluate,
    model, and manage harmful algae and its impacts:

•   isolating algae toxins and characterizing their chemical and
    pharmacological actions,

•   developing tests to identify individual toxins based on their unique
    chemistry,

•   developing the capability to predict the occurrence and assess the impacts
    of harmful algae.

•   determining the source and consequences of algae toxins in the marine
    food web.

•   developing management and mitigation strategies to minimize the impacts
    of harmful algae,

•   identifying and improving access to databases on toxic algae occurrences
    and impacts.

•   developing programs to communicate educational and public health
    information, and

•   providing rapid response programs for harmful algae outbreaks.

    The national plan set in place an interagency process for addressing these
    objectives. A December 1995 report—The Ecology and Oceanography of
    Harmful Algal Blooms: A National Research Agenda—serves as a blueprint
    for carrying out the federal research program on the ecology and
    oceanography of harmful algae. This report resulted in the establishment
    of the ECOHAB program, the first federally coordinated effort dedicated to
    conducting the basic research necessary to understand the nature of
    harmful algae, the reasons they occur, and the steps that can be taken to
    control them. Under the auspices of the ECOHAB program, five federal
    agencies—NOAA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National
    Science Foundation (NSF), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and the
    National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)—have funded
    research projects that are carried out in-house or by universities and other
    organizations. Other agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control
    and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute of Environmental Health
    Sciences (NIEHS), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are involved



    Page 11                                GAO/RCED-99-192 Environmental Protection
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                                 in conducting research and disseminating information to the public on
                                 harmful algae. Research supported by CDC and NIEHS primarily focuses on
                                 the human health effects that result from exposure to water or aerosols
                                 containing harmful algae, while FDA’s research focuses on the human
                                 health effects from exposure to toxins from consuming seafood.
                                 Collectively, these agencies spent more than $40 million in 1997 and 1998
                                 on these efforts. (See table 1.)

Table 1: ECOHAB and Other Key
Agency Funding for Research on   Research organizations                                       1997                     1998
Harmful Algae                    ECOHAB (NOAA, EPA, NSF,
                                 ONR, NASA)a                                         $10,200,000                $11,700,000
                                 CDC                                                            $0               $7,000,000
                                 National Institute of
                                 Environmental Health
                                 Sciences                                                $975,000                $2,400,000
                                 Food and Drug Administration                          $4,200,000                $4,200,000
                                 Total                                               $15,400,000                $25,300,000
                                 a
                                 These amounts represent the total funding for multiyear projects.



                                 Before the ECOHAB program, research on the effects of harmful algae was
                                 typically isolated and uncoordinated. Often, the research was carried out
                                 by individual scientists and was not sustained over time. Before the
                                 program, there was essentially no overall federal coordination of the work
                                 to ensure that important national priorities were being addressed.

                                 A second report was issued in February 1997. Developed on the basis of
                                 the objectives in the national plan, Harmful Algal Blooms in Coastal
                                 Waters: Options for Prevention, Control and Mitigation describes the
                                 processes and mechanisms that need to be employed to control harmful
                                 algae and their impacts. According to NOAA officials, this report is the basis
                                 for new initiatives for intervention strategies to deal with harmful algae to
                                 minimize human health, ecological, and economic impacts.

                                 The National Harmful Algal Bloom Research and Monitoring Strategy,
                                 published in November 1997, presents a national strategy for
                                 federally-supported research and monitoring for problems associated with
                                 harmful algae, particularly Pfiesteria and Pfiesteria-like organisms. The
                                 report is intended to serve as an action plan for Pfiesteria research and
                                 monitoring within the framework of the broader objectives identified in
                                 the national plan. In November 1998, NOAA published The Status of U.S.




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                           Harmful Algal Blooms: Progress Towards a National Program, which
                           described a number of interagency programs designed to understand and
                           ameliorate the impacts of harmful algae without attempting to provide a
                           quantitative assessment of progress.


Addressing Harmful Algae   Research on harmful algae is generally long-term. Most ECOHAB-sponsored
Problems Is a Long-Term    research projects are just getting under way, including two 5-year
Process                    multidisciplinary programs to study toxic algal blooms in the Gulfs of
                           Maine and of Mexico. Some delays have been encountered. According to
                           NOAA officials and several key researchers, there has been a significant
                           delay in identifying the chemical composition of the Pfiesteria toxins. They
                           stated that researchers cannot get enough Pfiesteria toxins to characterize
                           their chemical and molecular structure. Massive amounts of tiny algal cells
                           must be isolated in pure laboratory cultures to produce enough toxins for
                           the analyses. Thus far, the Aquatic Botany Laboratory at North Carolina
                           State University has been the only facility able to provide significant
                           quantities of toxic Pfiesteria cultures to the scientific community.
                           According to the laboratory director, funding limitations have precluded
                           the facility from producing sufficient quantities of the toxins for
                           identification and characterization. Until toxin supplies for Pfiesteria and
                           other harmful algae are increased and the chemical analyses are
                           completed, other important research objectives, such as developing
                           management and mitigation strategies to minimize the impact on human
                           health and the environment, are unlikely to be achieved.

                           Recognizing that many of ECOHAB’s research projects represent long term
                           efforts and are primarily directed to resolving scientific uncertainties, a
                           1997 scientific panel recommended the creation of a federal program that
                           would complement the ECOHAB program by focusing on the prevention,
                           mitigation, and control of harmful algae. While NOAA, EPA, and other federal
                           agencies have conducted or supported efforts in this area, the efforts have
                           generally been carried out in a piecemeal manner, as basic research was
                           done before the ECOHAB program. For example, after the 1997 outbreak of
                           Pfiesteria in Maryland and Virginia, the administration created an ad hoc
                           interagency task force to assist the states in preventing, mitigating, and
                           controlling Pfiesteria. Similar efforts for other harmful algal species,
                           however, have not been established, and, in September 1998, the Senate
                           Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation reported that little
                           had been done at the federal level to prevent and control harmful algae
                           given the scope and seriousness of the problem.




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The Congress Has          In November 1998, the Congress enacted the Harmful Algal Bloom and
Mandated an Interagency   Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998, which is focused on federal
Effort on Harmful Algae   prevention, mitigation, and control efforts. The act requires the
                          establishment of an interagency task force on harmful algal blooms and
Toxins                    hypoxia. Task force members include representatives of NOAA (serving as
                          chair), EPA, the National Science Foundation, the Food and Drug
                          Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the
                          Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Council on Environmental
                          Quality, and the departments of Agriculture, Interior, Navy, and Health and
                          Human Services. Among other things, the task force is required to
                          complete an assessment of the ecological and economic consequences of
                          harmful algae; develop alternatives for reducing, mitigating, and
                          controlling the outbreaks of blooms; and examining the social and
                          economic costs and benefits of such alternatives. In addition, the
                          assessment should identify alternatives for preventing unnecessary
                          duplication of effort among federal agencies and departments and provide
                          for federal assistance to the states and local governments in preventing,
                          reducing, managing, mitigating, and controlling harmful algae and its
                          public health and environmental impacts. The assessment is to be
                          submitted to the Congress by November 13, 1999.


                          We provided a draft of this report to NOAA and EPA for their review and
Agency Comments           comment since they are the lead agencies for coordinating federal efforts
                          to address the problems of harmful algae. The agencies generally agreed
                          that the report accurately describes what is known about the effects of
                          harmful algae on human health and the environment and the federal
                          efforts to address the problem.

                          In commenting on the report, NOAA stated that it is committed to reducing
                          the impacts of harmful algae on U.S. coastal resources, economies, and
                          public health. NOAA also made a number of specific technical suggestions,
                          which we incorporated into the report as appropriate.

                          EPA said that the report provided an accurate and informative summary of
                          the issues. EPA also made several observations about the report. First, EPA
                          stated the draft did not address the problem of mitigating and controlling
                          harmful algae and pointed out that while the Ecology and Oceanography
                          of Harmful Algal Blooms program is doing research on the impacts of
                          harmful algae, it is not addressing current efforts to mitigate the problem.
                          The draft report discussed mitigation efforts, including information on the
                          interagency task force created by the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia



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              Research and Control Act of 1998. The task force is intended to
              complement the Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms
              program by coordinating federal efforts to control and mitigate harmful
              algae. Second, EPA pointed out that Pfiesteria is only one of the
              toxin-producing organisms requiring research and suggested that the
              report describe the Ecology and Oceangraphy of Harmful Algal Blooms
              projects and the level of funding provided by the contributing agencies.
              The report clearly states that although Pfiesteria outbreaks have received
              recent attention, the newly created interagency task force is to address
              alternatives for reducing, mitigating, and controlling all harmful algae that
              have the potential for affecting human health and the environment.
              Furthermore, the report provides summary research and funding
              information. Third, EPA indicated that it would be useful to include
              information on the ability to detect contaminated seafood before it is
              made available to consumers. We agree and added information on FDA’s
              seafood hotline and web site. See appendixes I and II, respectively, for the
              text of NOAA’s and EPA’s comments.


              To identify available information on harmful algae and their effects on
Scope and     human health and the environment, we held discussions with managers
Methodology   and researchers from the two lead federal agencies for the ECOHAB
              program—NOAA and EPA—which have also assumed the leadership role for
              supporting research on the factors responsible for harmful algae and for
              developing models for predicting future outbreaks. We also interviewed
              officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National
              Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the Food and Drug
              Administration to discuss their research findings on the human health
              implications of exposure to algae toxins. We also talked with nationally
              recognized experts from academia and other organizations involved in
              research on harmful algae and attended technical conferences at which
              scientific information on the causes and impacts of harmful algae were
              presented. We reviewed the national plan for addressing the harmful algae
              problem and other scientific studies that contain extensive information on
              the human health and environmental effects associated with harmful
              algae.

              To describe the status of federal efforts to address the problem of harmful
              algae, particularly the coordination of research and management strategies
              among the federal agencies, we interviewed managers and researchers
              from the two lead federal agencies for the ECOHAB program, an interagency
              coordination program established to address the scientific uncertainties



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associated with harmful algae. We interviewed officials from the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences, and the Food and Drug Administration to
discuss the status of their research on the human health implications from
exposure to algal toxins. We also talked with nationally recognized experts
from academia and other organizations involved in research on harmful
algae and attended technical conferences at which information on the
status of research on the causes and impacts of harmful algae and the
progress in developing management and mitigation strategies was
presented. We also reviewed NOAA’s recent report on the status of progress
towards developing a national harmful algae program and other studies
that address the status and coordination of research on harmful algae.

We performed our work from August 1998 through June 1999 in
accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

As arranged with your offices, unless you announce its contents earlier,
we plan no further distribution of this report until 15 days from the date of
this letter. At that time, we will send copies of this report to Senator John
McCain, Senator Ernest F. Hollings, Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Senator
John F. Kerry, Senator John H. Chafee, Senator Max Baucus, Senator Jesse
Helms, Representative Dan Burton, Representative Henry A. Waxman,
Representative Patsy T. Mink, Representative Rod R. Blagojevich, and
other interested members of Congress. We will also send copies of this
report to the Honorable Carol Browner, Administrator, Environmental
Protection Agency; the Honorable Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, Director of the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the Honorable Dr. D. James
Baker, Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration;
the Honorable Dr. Kenneth Olden, Director, the National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences; and the Honorable Dr. Jane E. Henney,
Commissioner, Food and Drug Administration. We will also make copies
available to others on request.




Page 16                                GAO/RCED-99-192 Environmental Protection
B-282701




Please call me at (202) 512-6111 if you or your staff have any questions
about this report. Major contributors to this report are listed in appendix
III.




David G. Wood
Associate Director,
  Environmental Protection Issues




Page 17                                GAO/RCED-99-192 Environmental Protection
Contents



Letter                                                                                         1


Appendix I                                                                                    20

Comments From the
Department of
Commerce
Appendix II                                                                                   21

Comments From the
Environmental
Protection Agency
Appendix III                                                                                  23

GAO Contacts and
Staff
Acknowledgements
Table               Table 1: ECOHAB and Other Key Agency Funding for Research                 12
                      on Harmful Algae

Figures             Figure 1: Distribution of Toxic Algae in the United States                 6
                    Figure 2: Dead Fish From Red Tides on the Florida and Texas                8
                      Coasts
                    Figure 3: Fish Killed by Pfiesteria                                        9




                    Abbreviations

                    CDC        Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
                    ECOHAB     Ecology and Oceangraphy of Harmful Algal Blooms
                    EPA        Environmental Protection Agency
                    FDA        Food and Drug Administration
                    NIEHS      National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
                    NSF        National Science Foundation
                    NOAA       National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
                    ONR        Office of Naval Research


                    Page 18                              GAO/RCED-99-192 Environmental Protection
Page 19   GAO/RCED-99-192 Environmental Protection
Appendix I

Comments From the Department of
Commerce




             Page 20       GAO/RCED-99-192 Environmental Protection
Appendix II

Comments From the Environmental
Protection Agency




              Page 21      GAO/RCED-99-192 Environmental Protection
Appendix II
Comments From the Environmental
Protection Agency




Page 22                           GAO/RCED-99-192 Environmental Protection
Appendix III

GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgements


                   David G. Wood (202) 512-6878
GAO Contacts       William F. McGee (919) 899-3781


                   In addition to those named above, Harry C. Everett, Kellie O. Schachle,
Acknowledgements   Everett O. Pace, Richard A. Frankel, and Karen K. Keegan made key
                   contributions to this report.




(160457)           Page 23                               GAO/RCED-99-192 Environmental Protection
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