Algal blooms, hypoxia bill approved by House

WASHINGTON, DC, March 12, 2010 -- Today, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bipartisan bill to address the effects of harmful algal blooms in fresh and coastal waters on aquatic plant and animal life and human health...

WASHINGTON, DC, March 12, 2010 -- Today, the House of Representatives voted 251-103 to approve a bipartisan bill to address the effects of harmful algal blooms in fresh and coastal waters on aquatic plant and animal life and human health.

"We need to protect our coast, oceans, and citizens from the threats that these blooms cause on our beaches, in the food web, and in economic losses to communities and commercial fisheries," stated House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN).

"This bill will reauthorize a program that has funded research to advance our understanding and our ability to detect, assess, predict and control these harmful algal bloom and hypoxia events," said bill author and Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Brian Baird (D-WA). "Since the last reauthorization there has been an increase in the number, frequency, and type of algal blooms and hypoxic events, affecting more of our coastlines and inland waters."

Harmful algal blooms are a rapid overproduction of algal cells that produce toxins and occur in both salt and freshwater. People and animals are exposed to the toxins when they drink or swim in the contaminated water or consume seafood that has ingested these toxins. The toxins cannot be removed or neutralized through the traditional water treatment methods, like filtering, boiling, or chemical treatments.

In addition to releasing toxins, the blooms can block sunlight in water and use up the available oxygen in the water, causing a severe oxygen depletion. The oxygen depletion, called hypoxia, stresses or suffocates marine animals and plants. Environmental changes in water quality, temperature, and sunlight or an increase in nutrients in the water can cause blooms to increase dramatically.

Harmful algal blooms also have a negative financial impact on a region, if beaches are closed and fishing is suspended. Harmful algal blooms and hypoxia cost the U.S. seafood and tourism industries approximately $82 million annually, according to a conservative estimate from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act, H.R. 3650, directs the NOAA to implement research strategies to better understand and respond to algal blooms and hypoxic events. It requires federal agencies to create a comprehensive and integrated strategy to address and reduce harmful algal blooms and hypoxia. The bill also establishes a national program to address marine and freshwater harmful algal blooms across the country in both coastal and inland waters.

The bill will give local communities the tools and best practices to understand and respond to harmful algal blooms and hypoxia. It will assist in regional, state, tribal, and local efforts to develop and implement appropriate marine and freshwater harmful algal bloom and hypoxia response plans, strategies, and tools. It will also provide resources for and assist in the training of local water and coastal resource managers in the methods and technologies for monitoring, controlling, mitigating, and responding to the effects of marine and freshwater harmful algal blooms and hypoxia events. The state and regional participation is completely voluntary. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) determined that the bill does not impose any cost on state, local, or tribal governments.

The bill has been endorsed by Environmental Defense Fund, Surfrider Foundation, Ocean Champions, and PURRE (People United to Restore our Rivers and Estuaries).

The Science and Technology Committee has been working in collaboration with the Committee on Natural Resources and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. A companion measure, S.952, has been introduced by Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and has passed the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

For more about the Committee's work on harmful algal blooms, please visit the Committee's website: science.house.gov.

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