Author Archives: waterhealthadmin

Sticker Shock and the Nation’s Drinking Water Infrastructure Challenges

WaterMainBreak

Water main break
Photo credit: EPA.gov

Over five years have passed since I wrote a 2-part series of articles titled “Pain at the Pipe.” Part 1 focused on why the US should respond to systemic drinking water infrastructure needs, while Part 2 addressed the consequences of failing to address those needs. Since then, drinking water infrastructure-related needs, as well as public health failures like Flint, Michigan, continue to make the news nationally and regionally, and have been highlighted in recent WQ&HC perspectives. In this article, I would like to focus on recent estimates of the magnitude and cost of the problem, and share some ideas regarding the need to establish realistic priorities, keeping in mind the axiom: If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.

Size of the Problem

There are over 150,000 active public drinking water systems in the US that collectively deliver treated water … READ MORE >>

Easter Egg Safety

Dying Easter eggs and organizing Easter egg hunts are treasured traditions in many families. Enjoying these traditions safely—without foodborne illness—is a matter of following a few commonsense guidelines. We provide the following Easter egg safety tips based on US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommendations with our wishes for a healthy, enjoyable holiday.

Buying Eggs

Buy eggs from a refrigerated case. Open the carton and inspect for clean, uncracked shells. The egg carton should be imprinted with a USDA grade shield and indicate a future “sell by” date (see photos below).

Egg CartonRefrigerating Eggs

Any bacteria present in an egg can multiply quickly at room temperature, so refrigerate eggs as soon as possible after purchasing them. The USDA recommends storing eggs in their carton in the coldest part of the refrigerator (40 degrees F or below). Do not store eggs on the refrigerator door shelf, which is warmer than interior areas.

Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 5.24.33 PMRefrigerated … READ MORE >>

Fancy Meeting You Here! Targeting Household Germs in Unexpected Places

PerspectivesPic1When the weather warms up after a long winter, I get the urge to throw open windows and tackle spring cleaning chores. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment to complete these chores, but I recently learned from WebMD that some of the germiest places in homes are not even on most people’s radar. The table below, based on information from WebMD, lists the most unexpected hiding places for household germs, the reasons why they thrive in those places, and how you can reduce their unwanted presence.

 

Germ Hangout

Why They Love it There

What to Do About it

Kitchen sponge For germs, the kitchen sponge is a moist maze of top-notch dwelling places. Not only is there regular contact with water, but there is also often plenty of food debris swept up in sponges to sustain germs.

According to WebMD, your kitchen sponge is probably the dirtiest thing in

READ MORE >>

Preventing Infection with Environmental Controls: A “Broad-spectrum” Approach

Environmental ControlsAs reports of the dangers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and “superbug” infections continue to make headlines, we think the time is right to consider the environmental controls at our disposal for fighting the spread of infectious illness. Environmental controls lower the risk of infection by taking the fight against pathogens into the environment. Once implemented, environmental controls can be thought of as offering “broad-spectrum” antibiotic protection.  

Examples of Environmental Controls in Preventing Infection

Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces: Hand contact with pathogens on frequently touched surfaces, such as door knobs and hand rails, is a common way to spread infection. Surfaces may look clean but looks can be deceiving, and the surface may be teeming with germs invisible to the naked eye.  Once hands are contaminated, the host has only to touch his or her face—especially the eyes, nose or mouth—to increase the likelihood of infection. Regularly disinfecting frequently touched surfaces READ MORE >>

World Water Day 2017: Why Waste Water?

3_Card_WWD2017Every year on March 22, the world community celebrates World Water Day by highlighting a water-related theme. This year’s theme, “Why Waste Water?” is linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #6, to “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” With a clever play on words, “Why Waste Water?” encourages us to (a) question the wasteful use of clean, treated water and (b) give some thought to “wastewater.”

Why a Focus on Wastewater?

In a circular economy, many resources are reused successfully, but wastewater remains a largely untapped resource. Does it seem odd to classify wastewater as a resource? Despite the fact that more than 80 percent of wastewater produced globally is discharged untreated into the environment, in a few places, especially where water is scarce, wastewater undergoes extensive treatment to produce high quality drinking water.

In addition to being a source of drinking … READ MORE >>

Sweet Evidence for an Unsavory Practice: Peeing in the Pool

PeeInPoolPeople urinate in swimming pools. It’s been a widely discussed topic since we published the results of our 2009 survey concluding that one in five American adults admit to having “peed in the pool.” Now there is physical evidence for this unsavory act, and it appears in the form of an artificial sweetener, of all things. A Canadian research team has identified a chemical compound in pool water that indicates the presence of urine. The “chemical marker” is acesulfame-K, or “ACE,” a synthetic sweetener found in prepackaged foods. ACE passes through the body essentially unaltered, and is excreted exclusively in the urine. The researchers posit that ACE could be a useful indicator of pool water quality.

The Problem with Peeing in the Pool

Besides being a rather discourteous thing to do, peeing in the pool contributes to poor pool water quality. Urine contains nitrogen-containing compounds that combine chemically with … READ MORE >>

Superbugs: Rising from Hospital Drainpipes

SuperbugsSuperbugs are sneaky creatures. A new University of Virginia (UVA) study reveals how these microbes, once washed down the drains of hospital sinks, colonize the drainpipe and rise up slowly along the sides of the pipe, eventually reaching the sink strainer. The researchers hypothesize that when the sink faucet is operated, the potential pathogens and superbugs may be splashed from the strainer over a distance of more than two feet, presenting an infection risk to vulnerable hospital patients.

A Significant Issue

Superbugs are multidrug resistant bacteria that are responsible for two million cases of illness and some 23,000 deaths per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. A CDC report notes that over 720,000 infections were contracted in hospitals in 2011 and that 75,000 of those patients died. The UVA researchers found over 32 recent reports describing the spread of bacteria resistant to the … READ MORE >>

Chlorine Odors and Why Drinking Water Systems Change Disinfection Practices

Drinking Water Treatment Facility Photo credit: FedCenter.gov

Drinking Water Treatment Facility
Photo credit: FedCenter.gov

Earlier this year, I wrote an article called “Smells Like Chlorine” that discussed the chemistry of odors that can arise from chlorine and other chlorine-based substances in drinking water and in poorly maintained swimming pools. Other WQ&HC articles have focused specifically on drinking water and chlorine smell, why some individuals are more sensitive than others, and why the water remains safe to drink. But did you know that the odor, taste, and sometimes even the appearance of drinking water often changes when a treatment facility alters its method of disinfection1 or when the the quality of the source water, especially rivers and lakes, change with seasons of the year?

Why Make a Change?

A public drinking water system, and there are over 150,000 in the US alone, may decide to change its treatment or disinfection practices permanentlyREAD MORE >>

Life is About Choices and their Inherent Risks, Here’s One: De-Iced Roads or Drinkable Water

Salted Roads

Salt unevenly applied in a Maryland parking lot in winter, 2017

Salting roads, highways and walkways in winter helps prevent injury and save lives by reducing the risk of accidents on icy surfaces. As with everything in life, however, there is no “free lunch.” Everything has a downside; sometimes we have to look for it. As I told my son years ago, when something is “free” (i.e., has no cost), “WATCH OUT.” In this case, the use of salt, as an immediate safety measure on icy roads has a downside that is playing out over the long term. Applying salt on pavement raises the salinity of natural waters, leading to ecological and human health effects;1 it also promotes pipe corrosion. In Flint, Michigan, for example, pipe corrosion from elevated chloride levels contributed to lead leaching into the water supply. And elevated sodium levels in drinking water can be harmful … READ MORE >>

Update: New Zealand’s Largest Drinking Water Outbreak

Drinking Water OutbreakIn August 2016, more than one-third of the 14,000 residents of the community of Havelock North in New Zealand were sickened with gastrointestinal illness after drinking untreated groundwater contaminated with Campylobacter bacteria. It was New Zealand’s largest drinking water outbreak in recorded history. Although accounts vary, the outbreak has been linked to the deaths of up to three persons. Other recent reports have noted that many people, especially the elderly, continue to suffer physically and have not fully recovered from the outbreak.1 The regional cost of the outbreak now exceeds $2.7 million in New Zealand dollars.2 Once the problem was identified and shortly after chlorination was implemented, there were no further cases of Campylobacter enteritis due to water system contamination.

Campylobacter and the Government Inquiry

Initial reports suggested that livestock were the most likely source of the Havelock North Campylobacter—a common food- and waterborne … READ MORE >>

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