The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


March 18, 2013

Chesapeake Bay's intersex fish mystery remains unsolved


"This is an expensive proposition, which is one of our big concerns with it," said Carol Holko, assistant secretary for plant industries and pest management in the state's Agriculture Department.

Maryland already requires farmers to record applications of restricted-use pesticides — powerful chemicals not available to the general public. But they don't have to automatically report it to the state.

The proposals by Del. Stephen Lafferty, D-Baltimore County, in the House and Sen. Roger Manno, D-Montgomery County, that would require growers to report dozens of restricted pesticides at least once a year came on the heels of an Environmental Protection Agency report in December that said many fish in the bay are in bad health.

They struggle with "increased incidence of infectious disease and parasite infestations" that contribute to "increased mortality in several species," the report said. It found feminization in both largemouth and smallmouth bass — eggs in the testes of males. There were also "tumors in bottom-dwelling fish," a major concern for Maryland and District of Columbia officials who caution anglers against eating carp and catfish.

The problem goes beyond fish, the report said. Birds of prey in a few locations experience eggshell thinning associated with certain chemicals.

The EPA found monitoring gaps where "some pesticides currently in use" couldn't be accounted for. A better accounting and more research into pesticide mixtures would help scientists understand the impact of chemicals on fish and wildlife.

But the farm lobby and officials in agriculture say the Maryland proposals also have gaps. The would not go after all the chemicals that concern the EPA, such as pesticides used to fight indoor pests and weeds sprouting in driveways and lawns.

They only target pesticides that can be used by certified professionals. Only 3,500 of Maryland's 13,000 farms are certified to use pesticides that would trigger the reporting, agriculture officials said. An additional 3,500 private companies and state agencies are also certified.

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