Horror Movie Brings Attention to Toxic Waterways in Mid-Atlantic Region
The movie is “The Bay” and it expands upon the pollution of the Chesapeake Bay that began in 1997, when fish began to float dead throughout the bay. They were infected with a type of dinoflagellate called Pfiesteria piscicida along with opportunistic fungi. The algae-like organisms have been found among the warm toxic waters of the Chesapeake and other waterways around Maryland to North Carolina. Soon the microbe was infecting people, resulting in skin lesions, confusion, memory loss and a litany of other symptoms.
In other words, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, and in this case, more horrific than a horror flick.
The infection caused a series of waterway closings and a banning of eating and selling the fish and shellfish harvested from the waterways. This led to massive losses among the seafood industry in the region as consumers looked elsewhere for their protein.
The outbreak of toxins was blamed on rising phosphorus levels, which was found to be likely caused by the massive poultry industry located in the region.
The manure and other toxins from these farms were producing incredible levels of phosphorus, giving birth to blooms of algae and related microorganisms.
While there was a cleanup effort, the problem still exists. Poultry farmers, driven by big food processors, are pushed to overproduce, overloading the capacity of their leach fields.
The Bay’s producer, Barry Levinson, began filming in hopes to produce a documentary on the issue. But when Frontline did a piece on the issue, Mr. Levinson decided to switch course and produce a horror flick, which starts in theatres November 3.
Frontline’s 2009 documentary, “Poisoned Waters”, was produced by Hedrick Smith, who investigates not only the fish kills in the Chesapeake, but also the finding of mutated fish, frogs and other amphibians in the Potomac River.
As for the mutations, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, they appear to be the result of endocrine disruptors, which are present in a multitude of chemicals, including most plastics.
The documentary also interviews scientists with the U.S.G.S., who explain how the endocrine systems of fish are similar to those of humans – all but spelling out that the mutations seen among the sealife may be destined for humans if we stay on our current course.
The PBS investigation leads to questions about whether exposure to endocrine disruptors are linked with the growing breast cancer epidemic.
Matters appear dire when the report shows how these same waters feed into the drinking water systems for many living in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Blazer B, Phillips S, Pendleton E. Fish Health, Fungal Infections, and Pfiesteria: The Role of the U.S. Geological Survey. U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 114-98.