Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – August 23rd, 2003

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

August 29, 2003

Blackout Created Water Crises in Detroit and Cleveland

The power outage that stretched from New York to Detroit two weeks ago triggered water crises in both Detroit and Cleveland. In Detroit, city water customers were under a boil-water alert from Thursday through Monday. Normally, electricity powers the pumps that push water through the city’s water system. Following the blackout, pressure dropped in the pipes and brought the chance that air and bacteria could enter the water supply. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality worked with the water department to assess the system before the advisory was lifted. The water department is required to have two water sample tests come back as negative for contamination in a 24-hour period before the boil-water advisory is lifted.

In Cleveland, all four of the city’s water pumping stations that move water uphill from Lake Erie to 1.5 million customers went down at once and residents were left without water. Only one station is needed to pump water to all customers, however officials never planned that all four pumps would go down simultaneously. Power was restored early Friday, but the flow was a trickle because of low pressure. Two-dozen National Guard tankers distributed emergency drinking water to help with the crisis.

Water Pollution Causes Second Highest Number of Beach Closures in a Decade

The National Resources Defense Council recently released its annual report that cites more than 12,000 closures and advisories in 2002 caused by pollution at ocean, bay, Great Lakes, and other freshwater beaches across the country. The number of daily closings and advisories was the second highest since the NRDC began tracking beach water quality in 1991.

The report, “Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches,” stated that the general trend of more closures and advisories is due in part to better beach water monitoring. Better monitoring has found that pollution from sewage spills and urban, suburban and agricultural runoff is contaminating our beaches with disease-causing bacteria and other pathogens. High bacteria levels, indicating the presence of human or animal waste, prompted 87 percent of the closures and advisories in 2002.

The report is largely based on data from the EPA’s Beaches Environmental Assessment, Closure and Health (BEACH) Program survey, the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and NRDC research.

The report also recognizes communities that also have taken significant steps to reduce beach pollution by taking steps such as improving sewage or storm water treatment, limiting coastal development, or preserving coastal wetlands. These communities are: Encinitas, CA; Milford, CT; Quincy, MA; and Racine, WI. It also names 55 communities that the NRDC claims to not regularly monitor beach water quality or notify the public if water is potentially unsafe. This list includes 19 in New York, 12 in Michigan, and 14 in Hawaii. The most frequented beaches on the list are: Lake Nacimiento, CA; Playa Flamenco, Puerto Rico; and Frenchman’s Bar, WA.

To view the complete report, visit

Bill Would Establish Fund to Improve Watersheds

A bill was recently introduced in the U.S. Senate that would add provisions to the Clean Water Act that would provide a steady source of funds for protecting and improving watersheds and aquifers that suffered damage due to violations of the Act. The grants would be funded from a new National Clean and Safe Water Fund with a budget equal to the fees collected each year from criminal, civil and administrative penalties assessed under both the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The bill would authorize the Environmental Protection Agency to award grants to public water systems and other designated agencies for projects that deal with issues such as water conservation, wetland protection and restoration, contaminated sediments, drinking water source protection, reducing pollutant loads, decentralized stormwater or wastewater treatment, stream buffers, conservation easements or land acquisitions to protect water quality and combined or sanitary sewer overflows.

Complete text of the bill is located at:, bill S1539.

Illness in Canadian Nursing Home Not SARS

The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control and BC Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre found conclusive evidence the virus responsible for an outbreak of respiratory illness at a nursing home in the Vancouver area is not the SARS corona virus. Laboratory tests from both centers and further genome sequencing of the virus identified in the outbreak at Surrey’s Kinsmen Place Lodge points to a known family of human coronaviruses, related to OC43. The symptoms caused by this family of viruses are consistent with those suffered by the residents and staff at Kinsmen Place Lodge. At the nursing home, 68 percent of the home’s residents and 29 percent of the staff fell ill with a sickness resembling a summer flu or severe cold.

For more information, please visit:

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