Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – August 20th, 2004

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

August 20, 2004

CDC to Study How Best to Remove Arsenic from Drinking Water Wells

A new study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will examine one hundred households in the state of Maine to determine the best method of removing arsenic from private drinking water wells. Residences that receive their water from private wells in areas with reported high levels of arsenic in the groundwater will be the focus of the CDC study.

Water samples will be taken before and after water is filtered to determine whether the chemistry of the arsenic concentration has an effect on a system’s failure. The CDC will then evaluate the effectiveness of water treatment devices and administer questionnaires to each household to determine the type of treatment used. Currently, the principal method for treating private wells with elevated arsenic levels is a point-of-use device installed to filter water at the top level of the well.

A 1999 study by the CDC and the state of Maine found that approximately 10 percent of private domestic wells in the state have arsenic concentrations in excess of Maine’s health standard of 10 micrograms.

To read more about arsenic and its effect on human health, please go to:

West Nile Virus Responsible for Five Deaths in California

Since June five people have died in California from the West Nile virus (WNV), with an additional 189 infections reported statewide, according to the California Department of Health Services. The heaviest hit areas are San Bernardino County and Los Angeles County.

First detected in the United States in 1999, WNV is a mosquito-borne disease that is common in Africa, west Asia and the Middle East. Although most who are bitten reportedly will not become ill, infected persons may experience mild to moderate flu-like symptoms like fever, headache and body ache. It is estimated that less than 1% of the people who are infected with WNV become severely ill and require hospitalization. The elderly and others with compromised immune systems are particularly susceptible to illness caused by WNV. The recent deaths mark the first fatalities in the Golden State. The virus has spread to 46 states, Canada and Mexico. In 2003, almost 10,000 human cases of WNV detected in the United States, including 262 deaths.

To combat the virus, state officials have ordered businesses and residents to remove stagnant, standing water from their property and spray pesticides. The Los Angeles City Council has preliminarily approved rules that would streamline fines of up to $1000 a day for residents and businesses that fail to remove standing water from their property. Standing water is recognized as one of the primary breeding grounds of mosquitoes and a facilitator of the spread of WNV.

For updates and more information on West Nile virus developments in California, please go to:

Utilities Gain Support for Water Rate Increases

A drinking water supply organization recently suggested that water utilities should rely less on federal funding and instead increase water rates to offset the expense of maintaining a safe drinking water supply. The American Water Works Association (AWWA) has developed a set of recommendations, in the form of a report, designed to help water utilities build public support for higher water rates.

The report, “Avoiding Rate Shock: Making the Case for Water Rates” offers four findings:

1. People undervalue water, compounding the challenge of getting rate increases accepted by ratepayers;
2. A consistent, structured communications outreach program increases the utility’s credibility with customers;
3. Utilities need to plan for the long term;
4. Water charges need to be distinguished from other portions of the bill so customers understand what they are paying for water service.

The report relies on a series of case studies and stakeholder interviews and looked at successful rate-increase campaigns from around the country to reach its conclusions. The report is proprietary to AWWA members and not publicly released.

Bacterial Infection Plagues Patients at Quebec Hospital

A bacterial agent commonly found in health care settings is responsible for the deaths of one hundred patients over the last 18 months at a Quebec hospital. The bacterial agent, Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), has been blamed for 54 patient deaths in 2003 and additional 46 this year at the 638 bed, University Hospital in Sherbrooke.

C. difficile is an anaerobic spore-forming bacterium that can cause an infection of the bowel. Diarrhea is the most common symptom. However, abdominal pain and fever may also occur. Episodes of diarrhea reportedly can be so severe that some people can lose enough fluid in their bodies that they may go into shock.

To limit the spread of C. difficile continuous hand washing and proper handling of contaminated wastes is recommended. Additionally, environmental surfaces contaminated with C. difficile spores should be thoroughly cleaned with an effective disinfectant such as bleach.

For further information about C. difficile from the CDC, please go to their website at:

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