Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – August 25th, 2006

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

August 25, 2006

EPA Considers New Evaluation Guidelines for Waterborne Pathogens

According to the newsletter Inside EPA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is evaluating whether to initiate a major shift in its overall approach to addressing pathogens under the Clean Water Act. Under this approach, the Agency would develop new water quality criteria for individual pathogens rather than pathogen indicators such as E. coli or fecal coliforms.

The wastewater treatment industry has raised concerns that new criteria could lead to CWA permit limits for individual species of bacteria or other microorganisms, with expensive new monitoring and treatment requirements. In particular, the industry is concerned that EPA will set water quality criteria for Cryptosporidium to match drinking water supply parameters of the Agency’s Long-Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment (LT2) rule.

While there is currently no formal proposal to revolutionize the EPA water quality guidelines, agency officials say they are currently considering calls from environmentalists and state officials to create a “new generation” of water quality criteria.

Drug-Resistant Staph Bug Leads U.S. Infection List

According to a new study published in the Aug. 17 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, a tough-to-treat staphylococcus bug is now the leading cause of skin and soft-tissue infections in the U.S. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) is resistant to the antibiotic methicillin and other common antibiotics such as oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin.

Staph infections, including MRSA, occur most frequently among persons in hospitals and healthcare facilities, including nursing homes and dialysis centers, who have weakened immune systems. Symptoms can range from benign skin infections to bloodstream infections to potentially fatal heart valve infections.

Funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the study involved cultured skin or soft-tissue infections from 422 patients at emergency rooms in eleven cities across the U.S. Of the 422 cases reviewed for the study, researchers reported that 59 percent had MRSA. The occurrence of MRSA ranged from 15 to 74 percent, depending on the city.

While the MRSA germ thrives in healthcare settings, outbreaks have occurred with frequency among prisoners, children and athletes.

MRSA infection prevention practices include avoiding sharing towels, razors or other common hygiene items, and by practicing proper hand hygiene regimes, including frequent washing with soap and water.

For the abstract of the study by Moran et al from the New England Journal of Medicine, please go to:

To find out more about MRSA from the CDC, please go to:

Chlorine Tests Are the Key in New Rules for Quebec Pools

The provincial government of Quebec, Canada has announced new regulations that will enforce strict chlorine use standards for all public swimming pools. Based on the new regulations, facilities that fail a single chlorination test should be closed immediately. The rules will apply to all public swimming pools, including those in campgrounds, water parks and hotels.

According to government officials, the new regulations are designed to alleviate public concerns about swimming pool water quality after a recent media investigation revealed that the majority of municipal pools in Montreal and Laval failed bacteria tests.

The new regulations will require pool owners to conduct tests for chlorine and pH levels every three hours and bacteriological tests every two weeks. The results are required to be posted at all public swimming facilities to make pool users aware of current water conditions.

Montreal closed two-thirds of its 73 public pools on August 21 after tests conducted by Le Journal de Montreal and the TVA television network reported public pools contained an unhealthy mix of bacteria, parasites and viruses. The media investigation also showed that 15 of Laval’s 22 pools didn’t conform to provincial standards.

For more information on swimming pool water quality and proper chlorination practices, please visit the Water Quality & Health Council’s Healthy Pools site at

FDA Approves Virus as New Food Safety Additive

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has granted a first-ever approval of viruses as a food additive. The mix of six bacteria-killing viruses called bacteriophages will be sprayed on ready-to-eat meat and poultry products to combat common microbes that sicken and kill hundreds of people each year.

Ready-to-eat luncheon meats are particularly vulnerable to harmful bacteria such as the Listeria monocytogenes bacterium since they typically aren’t cooked or reheated, a process which will normally kill the bacteria.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) an estimated 2,500 people become seriously ill with listeriosis each year in the U.S. Five hundred of these cases are fatalities. Symptoms of listeriosis can include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In more severe cases, septicemia and meningitis can occur. Pregnant women, newborns, people with weakened immune systems and the elderly are particularly susceptible to contracting listeriosis.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will regulate the use of the new bacteriophage product. Consumers will not be made aware through packaging or labeling that meat and poultry products they have selected have been treated with the spray.

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

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