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Maryland Battling Pfiesteria, Asking North Carolina to Help

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SHELLTOWN, MD — When the pfiesteria infested the waters of the Pocomoke River and hurt researchers in Maryland a month ago, the state began pushing for change. Now researchers are asking North Carolina to join the battle.

For 60 years, Fred Maddox and his family have made a living in the swirlingtides of Maryland's lower Pocomoke River. But for now, his catch is comingfrom different waters. Pfiesteria piscicida, the same fish-killingorganism North Carolina is battling, appears to be preying on fish inMaryland's currents.

Three weeks ago, 10 people developed memory problems that appear to bepfiesteria-related, according to a team of doctors hired by the state.Four of the victims developed abnormal brain patterns. Two portions of thePocomoke and nearby King's Creek are closed until further notice.

Tommy East is glad to see Maryland taking a stand, though he believes officialsshould have acted sooner. The commercial fisherman claims to suffer fromlung and brain problems he developed a year ago.

The waters he and the others attribute to the illness have become the sceneof intensive scrutiny.

A month ago, the state of Maryland set up a mobile command center near thesite of the fish kill, and 10 state employees, including some researchers,come to work there every day. As long as the water is off limits, each ofthem is on 24-hour standby.

"It's about like a fire whistle going off, you know, we've got a way ofgetting people here pretty quickly," said Quentin Johnson, logisticscoordinator

State leaders said they are aggressively trying to figure out whythe outbreak is happening now.

Thursday, the governor announced a new taskforce that will consider the impact of farms and the state's growingpoultry industry. Officials have not confirmed that either is to blame.So the mystery remains. Something is causing the organism to flare up, andno one anywhere is sure why.

Later this month, the governors of six states, including North Carolinawill gather in Annapolis to talk about possible strategies. Congress is also helping by pledging seven-million dollars to research pfiesteria-relatedhealth problems.