|I want to thank
Senator Lieberman and the other members of the Senate Committee
on Government Affairs for scheduling these hearings and inviting
me to testify before you. My testimony is presented on behalf
of the Waterkeeper Alliance, a non-profit umbrella organization
licensing and supporting more than 80 Waterkeepers protecting
rivers, bays and other watersheds throughout the country. My
testimony will address concerns about the negative impact of
concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and EPA’s
failure to regulate such operations.
I am Rick Dove, and I have lived on the shores of the Neuse
River near New Bern, North Carolina for over twenty-five years.
In 1987, after retiring as a Colonel in the United States
Marine Corps, I pursued a childhood dream and became a commercial
fisherman. With three boats and a local seafood outlet store,
my son Todd and I worked over 600 crab pots and more than
2,000 feet of gill nets. Things went well for the first two
years. Then the fish began to die, many with open bleeding
sores. At first it was only a few but, as time passed, the
numbers grew larger and larger. Soon my son and I began to
develop the same kind of sores on our legs, arms and hands.
It took months for these sores to heal. I also experienced
memory loss. At the time I did not connect my son’s
and my health problems to my work on the water—that
connection was established later.
By 1990, the situation became much worse. More and more
of the fish in the Neuse River were developing bleeding lesions.
Regrettably, my son Todd and I had no choice but to stop fishing.
Frustrated and disappointed, I grudgingly returned to practicing
law. In 1991, the Neuse suffered the largest fish kill ever
recorded in the state’s history. Over one billion fish
died over a period of six weeks during September and October.
There were so many dead fish that some had to be bulldozed
into the ground. Others were left to rot on the shore and
river bottom. The stench produced by this kill was overwhelming
and will never be forgotten.
In 1993, I became the Neuse Riverkeeper. In that capacity,
I was a full-time, paid citizen representative of the non-profit
Neuse River Foundation whose duty it was to restore, protect
and enhance the waters of the 6,100 square mile Neuse River
watershed. Due to ill health attributed in large measure from
my exposure to the toxins in the river, my work as Neuse Riverkeeper
ended in July 2000.
As the Neuse Riverkeeper, I was in a position, personally,
to study the river, to work with scientists and state officials,
and to closely monitor the various sources of pollution. I
patrolled the river by boat, aircraft, vehicle and waders
along with a corps of approximately 300 volunteers. All sources
of pollution were exhaustively documented in thousands of
photographs and hundreds of hours of video. By the time the
next major fish fill occurred in 1995, I was in the best position
to observe, report and document the cause and effect of one
of the river’s most serious problems, nutrient pollution.
In the 1995 fish kill, for over 100 days, fish were once
again dying in large numbers. Nearly all of them were covered
with open bleeding lesions. In just 10 of those 100 days,
volunteers working with the Neuse River Foundation documented
more than 10,000,000 dead fish. At that time, many citizens
who were exposed to this fish kill complained about a number
of neurological and respiratory problems. North Carolina health
authorities documented these problems and wrongly dismissed
them. Later, researchers working similar fish kills on Maryland’s
Pokomoke River would link these same symptoms to the cause
of the fish kills, Pfiesteria piscicida.
By 1995, we knew what was killing the fish. It was Pfiesteria
piscicida, a one-cell animal, so tiny 100,000 of them would
fit on the head of a pin. This creature, often referred to
as the “cell from hell” produces an extremely
powerful neurotoxin that paralyzes the fish, sloughs their
skin and eats their blood cells. It is capable of doing the
same thing to humans. This neurotoxin is volatized to the
air and is known to cause serious health problems, including
memory loss, in humans who breathe it. Its proliferation has
been directly linked to nutrient pollution from CAFOs, as
well as other sources. One of the most exhaustive websites
related to Pfiesteria piscicida can be found at www.pfiesteria.com.
The fish kills continue today. Depending upon weather conditions,
some years are worse than others. Many smaller kills are not
even counted. Fishermen continue to report neurological and
respiratory symptoms, and a dark cloud still hangs over the
state’s environmental reputation and economy.
From an office located in North Carolina, I now serve as
the Southeastern Representative of Waterkeeper Alliance. The
Alliance’s headquarters is located in White Plains,
New York. A major part of my duties involves assisting other
Waterkeepers and investigating and documenting the environmental
degradation resulting from CAFO operations, especially those