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Fisherman Says He Is Dying Because of Pfiesteria in the Neuse

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RALEIGH — The Neuse River continually appears near the top of the list of thenation's sickest waterways. Sewage spills and a fish killing organism aredangerous to wildlife, but it depends on who you ask as to whether theriver makes people sick or not.

Some say the river isn't as bad as everyone thinks. But some think it isbad, even dangerous. A fisherman says he's dying because of something hecame in contact with in the water. That something is pfiesteria, a toxicorganism that biologists around the world are calling the cell from hell.There is much debate about the organism, which was first identified sixyears ago by a little-known scientist at North Carolina State University. JoAnn Burkholder is now internationally-known and she is respected in manycircles, despised in some and is always controversial.

Burkholder claims pfiesteria made her sick, as well as some of herco-workers but state researchers say there is no proof pfiesteria isharmful to humans.

"Millions of fish were dying," said Burkholder. "Pfiesteria excretes atoxin that first narcotizes fish, drugs them, makes them lethargic so theydon't tend to move or leave. Then it kills them."

Pfiesteria attaches to cells and essentially eats them. Burkholder said asshe learned more about the Neuse, she was able to draw conclusions aboutthe organism.

"I was affected by this organism while I was working with toxic culturesof it in a laboratory setting," said Burkholder. "And all I remember isthat I walked in one way and walked out very differently.

"I remember avoiding telephone conversations because I realized I couldn'tremember what a person said at the beginning of their sentence by the timethey reached the end of it. And basically I had no short term memory forabout eight days.

"You get a cold, you get the flu. You don't get short term memory loss."said Burkholder.

Pfiesteria, as it's swimming around in a feeding frenzy, will engulf eightto 10 red blood cells over the course of about 45 minutes.

"What I am saying is the verdict is out and it should remain out, it mustremain out until we have a way of determining for certain whether peopleare hurt by this organism," said Burkholder. "I cannot say the extent towhich people are being hurt without that information."

David Jones, a fisherman, also says he was harmed by pfiesteria.

What is really so striking about the problem with the Neuse is itscontrasts. A soothing sunset, the terrifying tale of David Jones.

There are contrasting opinions about his story. Some doctors say 100 otherfishermen in the New Bern area may be suffering severe neurological damagefrom pfiesteria like Jones.

The State Health Department emphatically disagrees, saying there is nolink between pfiesteria and human sickness. They say it is perfectly safeto swim in the Neuse, to boat in it, to fish in it. Governor Hunt willaddress the state's position in Wednesday night's documentary.

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