The Washington Post reports that viral hemorrhagic septicemia, a disease often described as “fish ebola,” has been discovered in southern Lake Michigan and a reservoir in Ohio. Hemorrhagic septicemia is an invasive species, most likely brought into the great lakes in the ballast water of ships transporting cargo from the Atlantic. Like many invasives, it has spread rapidly, taking advantage of an ecosystem that never evolved the capacity to deal with it. Now the virus stands, literally, on the doorstep of the Mississippi, potentially providing it access to a whole new ecosystem in which to wreak havoc.
As I’ve blogged about before, the spread of invasives like hemorrhagic septicemia is one of the main reasons we need to get serious about controlling invasive species and, especially, ballast water pollution. The House of Representatives is taking up a bill (H.R. 2830) that contains provisions which would set rigorous standards for ballast water treatment and disposal. Unfortunately, the bill puts off implementation of these standards for years, preempts virtually all state laws addressing ballast water pollution, and could even be read as preempting the Clean Water Act itself, one of our bedrock environmental laws. In our view, that’s an unwise tradeoff, especially considering the agency that will be implementing the new federal standard will be the U.S. Coast Guard, which doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to protecting the environment.