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New Research Center to Open at N.C. State

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RALEIGH — Pfiesteria affects North Carolina's rivers and, therefore, the economy and tourism in the state. That's why scientists are working so hard to find the cause of the micro-organism.

Now, they're getting some help. N.C. State University is opening a new research center.

The new lab has five bio-hazard rooms where researchers will mass-produce the toxin in tanks containing fish.

As recently as five years ago, many in North Carolina weren't convinced that pfiesteria even existed, but with the Friday opening of the new lab, North Carolina is now the top pfiesteria research area in the country.

N.C. State officials cut the ribbon on the new 3,400-square-foot facility. It's 10 times the size of the old lab.

The five "hot" labs are designed for safety. Researchers will work in full bio-hazard gear and will grow and test pfiesteria samples. They hope to avoid the kind of accidental exposure that made Dr. Joann Burkholder sick a few years ago.

"I lost my short-term memory and had a lot of other serious health problems," said Burkholder. "[There were] learning disabilities for a short period of time, several days. But then I've had some lingering effects that have lasted much longer, in fact five years now."

Pfiesteria kills millions of fish in North Carolina every year, including half-a-million in New Bern just last week. The opening of the new lab marks a major turning point in pfiesteria research for scientists and environmentalists who have been fighting for funding for years.

"A lot of the problems we've been suffering during the past of no communication, no respect, disbelief -- all things that were standing in the way of getting some solutions -- have been put behind us now," said Neuse Riverkeeper Rick Dove.

In addition to North Carolina, the lab will also conduct research for Virginia, Maryland and Delaware. Just Thursday night, a sample was flown in from Maryland and tested negative.

After all the battles researchers have been through in order to get funding for this lab, they say they don't have enough money to run it for very long. They are looking for more money for their research.

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Stephanie Hawco, Reporter
Joe Frieda, Photographer
MJ Ainsley, Web Editor

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