Subcommittee examines ways to prevent, control harmful algal blooms

WASHINGTON, DC, Sept. 17, 2009 -- The House Committee on Science and Technology's Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a legislative hearing to examine harmful algal blooms and hypoxia research and response needs...

WASHINGTON, DC, Sept. 17, 2009 -- Today, the House Committee on Science and Technology's Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a legislative hearing to examine harmful algal blooms and hypoxia research and response needs, in order to create and implement a plan that would monitor, prevent, mitigate, and control both marine and fresh water bloom and hypoxia events. Specifically, Subcommittee Members heard testimony on the draft legislation, The Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 2009.

"Harmful algal blooms pose serious threats because of their production of toxins and reduction of oxygen in the water. These impacts include alteration of the ocean's food web, human illnesses, and economic losses to communities and commercial fisheries," stated Subcommittee Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA).

Harmful algal blooms, sometimes referred to as HABs, are a rapid overproduction of algal cells that produce toxins which are hazardous to animals and plants. When the blooms occur, they block sunlight in water and use up the available oxygen in the water, which causes hypoxia, a severe oxygen depletion. The toxins the algae produce can be dangerous to people and animals that come in direct contact, like by drinking or swimming in the water, or through indirect contact, for example, by consuming fish and shellfish that have ingested the toxins. Unfortunately, the toxins cannot be removed through usual means of filtering, boiling, or adding iodine.

Over the years, the frequency and duration of harmful algal blooms have increased in freshwater, marine water and along coastlines across the nation. Environmental changes in water quality, temperature, and sunlight or an increase in nutrients in the water can cause blooms to increase dramatically.

According to a conservative estimate from NOAA, harmful algal blooms and hypoxia cost the U.S. seafood and tourism industries approximately 82 million annually.

"Since the last reauthorization of the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act in 2004, there has been an increase in the number, frequency, and type of blooms in recent years. We need to continue the valuable ongoing research while now implementing strategic national and regional plans," said Baird. "We need to use our research and advances in our understanding of these blooms to better monitor, mitigate, and control these occurrences and hopefully prevent them."

The Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2009 directs the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, through the Interagency Task Force, to establish and maintain a National Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Program. This program would develop and coordinate a comprehensive strategy to address Harmful algal blooms and hypoxia. In addition, this legislation would provide for the development and implementation of comprehensive regional action plans to reduce Harmful algal blooms and hypoxia.

The Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2009 is scheduled to be marked up in the Energy and Environmental Subcommittee on September 23.

For more information on the Committee's work on harmful algal blooms, visit the Committee's website: http://science.house.gov

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