Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – August 16th, 2002

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

August 16, 2002

West Nile Virus Outbreak Grows

The West Nile virus continues to plague the more humid parts of our country this summer as temperatures rise. Transmitted from birds to mosquitoes and then to humans, the virus has affected residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and the District of Columbia. At press time, this year’s outbreak has already killed five people in Louisiana. Approximately four out of five who contract the virus show no symptoms; however, less than one percent of those affected develop the most serious complications, including inflammation of the brain. The elderly and those with weakened immune systems are the most vulnerable to adverse effects. As public health offices around the nation ramp up their pest control and public education campaigns, Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted, “This is something we’re going to have to learn to live with, because the virus is very well established in the bird and mosquito populations.”

For the latest information on the West Nile virus, visit
http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/index.htm

Anthrax Cleanup Again Underway

Ten months after initial cleanup efforts at the Hart Senate Office Building, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began decontamination efforts at Washington, DC’s Brentwood Postal Facility, which has been closed since October after officials discovered anthrax spores in the building. A small amount of chlorine dioxide gas was pumped into a tent inside the building containing three tainted mail-processing machines. The gassing of the tent is intended to test equipment that will be used during the full-scale fumigation of the building. Scientists are still reviewing the results. Officials say the fumigation effort for the 17.5 million-cubic-feet Brentwood facility will dwarf that of the Hart Senate Office Building.

For news on the anthrax cleanup, visit
http://www.epa.gov/epahome/hi-anthrax.htm

Water Pollution Alternative Would Provide Billions for Infrastructure Upgrade

Prior to the August recess, U.S. Senator Robert Smith (R-NH), ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, introduced a bill to authorize $35 billion over the next five years for water infrastructure. The proposed bill would help fund wastewater and drinking water infrastructure projects under the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. In return, water treatment and drinking water utilities would work to further improve their fiscal management. Under the legislation, utilities would be required to assess the condition of their facilities and pipes and develop a plan to pay for the long-term repair and replacement of these assets.

To view the status of the bill, visit http://thomas.loc.gov/ and search for S. 2813.

EPA Considering Alteration to Clean Water Act Program

Last week, the EPA announced that it will seek to change a key Clean Water Act anti-pollution program to allow states more leeway in planning and implementing the cleanup of more than 20,000 dirty rivers, lakes and estuaries. The plan encourages several “voluntary efforts” and is open to states trading pollution credits. The EPA’s deputy assistant administrator for water, Benjamin H. Grumbles, said, “We would not be proposing a radical shift in the Clean Water Act responsibilities of the federal government. The states would develop the plans, and we would review and approve them – which is what we currently do.” Daniel Rosenberg, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, counters that the EPA would be weakening the program by impeding the addition of new bodies of water slated for cleanup: “There’s no question the better strategy is to work with the rules that exist.” The EPA stresses that the alterations would reflect the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences and various state and local water pollution control agencies.

To learn more about the Clean Water Act, visit
http://www.epa.gov/compliance/civil/federal/cwa.html

Fallon, Nevada To Be Subject of EPA Arsenic Study

The EPA plans to undertake an unprecedented study to determine the health effects, if any, of prolonged exposure to arsenic in drinking water. According to the EPA, residents of Fallon, Nevada have consumed naturally-occurring, elevated levels of arsenic in their drinking water for decades – levels ten times the current federal standard of ten parts-per-billion (ppb). Last year the arsenic standard was lowered from 50 ppb to its current level. The EPA is seeking 1,000 residents at least 45 years of age who have lived in Fallon or Churchill County for more than twenty years. “Fallon represents a unique opportunity to answer questions that may give us insight into what happens to people in a U.S. population who have had long-term exposure to arsenic in their water,” stated Dr. Rebecca Calderon, an EPA epidemiologist. Participants in the study will complete a questionnaire and provide blood and urine samples. In 2004, Fallon will have a new water treatment plant that complies with government arsenic standards.

EPA information on arsenic in drinking water can be seen at
http://www.epa.gov/safewater/arsenic.html

In The News-is a bi-weekly, online service from the Water Quality & Health Council. The publication is updated every other Friday and can be viewed by logging onto www.waterandhealth.org. To receive the publication via e-mail, please click here and enter your e-mail address to join our mailing list.

Subscribe to receive the weekly "Water Quality & Health Council Perspectives"