Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – April 2001

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

April 27, 2001

Exposure to Farm Animals Cited as E. coli Risk

On April 19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines for petting zoos and other open animal exhibits in the wake of last year’s E. coli outbreaks that sickened 56 people at a Pennsylvania dairy farm and Washington state petting zoo. The afflicted, mainly children, either sucked their fingers or ate after contact with the animals. While everyday contact with house pets is not identified as a health risk, farm animals can pose a threat to humans. The CDC guidelines recommend posting information about the risk of bacterial transmission, keeping snack areas separate from petting areas, not serving raw milk, and encouraging high-risk populations, such as pregnant women and the elderly, to use extra caution when in contact with animals. Over 70,000 cases of E. coli infection are reported annually in the United States, though only 100 are fatal on average.

For more information, visit

Flooding Continues Along the Mississippi River

The Mississippi River flood that has plagued Minnesota and Wisconsin is now severely affecting towns in Iowa and Illinois. Davenport, Iowa, the largest urban area on the upper Mississippi without a permanent floodwall, has enlisted the National Guard and other volunteers to aid in precautionary measures and sandbagging. States of emergency have been declared in 35 counties in three states along the river. Floodwaters often carry waterborne disease agents including viruses, protozoa and bacteria that can cause severe illness and even death after the waters recede. Throughout the flooded area, private wells have been contaminated with floodwaters, and water-soaked homes and personal possessions may contain molds that are particularly dangerous to children. The American Red Cross strongly suggests cleaning and disinfecting everything that may have been contaminated by floodwaters, including walls, floors, counters, dishes, glassware, utensils, clothing, outdoor and indoor furniture, patios, decks and playground equipment..

For up-to-date coverage on the flooding, visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency at

Whitman Announces Arsenic Plans

EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman has announced that the EPA is moving forward to put in place a reduced standard for arsenic levels in drinking water. The new standard is expected to be finalized by February 22, 2002, following the review of an ongoing study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The EPA has asked the NAS to perform an expedited review of a range of three to 20 parts per billion for the establishment of a new arsenic standard. The NAS already has reported that the present standard of 50 parts per billion is too high, but it did not specify what a protective level should be. EPA Administrator Whitman noted that compliance with the new arsenic standard will begin in 2006, at the same time that the initial rule proposed by the Clinton Administration would have gone into effect.

For more information, visit

FDA Launches Campaign Against Foodborne Illness

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced a 10-year program to decrease foodborne illness in the U.S. by working to improve food preparation standards and individual employee behaviors at institutional, restaurant and retail food outlets. The effort was prompted by the results of 17,000 food safety inspection observations showing that widespread foodborne illness factors were not being addressed. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 33 million people suffer from foodborne illness every year in the United States, nine thousand of whom die. As an immediate preventative measure, the FDA recommends that food service establishments sanitize all surfaces, cutting boards, sink drains, and utensils with chemical sanitizers such as chlorine bleach.

For more information, visit

Bush Administration Restructures EPA Budget

The Bush administration announced that states would assume more responsibility in enforcing their own environmental protection laws under the proposed EPA budget for the 2002 fiscal year. While a $10 million cut is recommended to reduce the EPA’s D.C. headquarters and regional offices’ staff size, the plan allocates $25 million to state enforcement programs and an additional $25 million for state environmental assessments. This power shift grants states more authority over pollution sources and wildlife concerns. The Administration argues that states are better suited than a federal agency to address these needs and priorities.

For more information, visit

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