Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – December 17th, 2004

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

December 17, 2004

New Food Security Rules to Fight Terrorism

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced new rules to facilitate the identification of food contamination sources, specifically in the event of a bio-terror attack on the nation’s food supply. The rules are designed to help investigators determine where in the food supply chain tainted or compromised food may exist.

According to the new rules, any corporate entity that manufacturers, processes, packs, transports, distributes, receives, holds or imports food must retain business records that document the origin of each food item for six months to two years. This regulatory requirement is the fourth in a series of FDA rules that implements food safety provisions of the Bioterrorism Act of 2002. A prior implemented regulation mandated that food companies provide American inspectors advance notice of when they would be exporting food products to the United States.

Companies will have a year to comply with the new regulations and will be required to make records publicly available only if the FDA has an established reason to believe that articles of food sourced from a specific business pose a serious threat to public health.

To read a fact sheet on the new FDA rules, please go to:

New Water Safety Monitoring Technology Announced

Sandia National Laboratories, CH2M Hill, and Tenix Investments Pty. Ltd. have announced plans to develop the Unattended Water Safety System, a technology to detect unmonitored biological agents, including bacteria, viruses, and protozoa that can threaten public water supplies. The system is slated to be available for commercial use by late 2005.

The privately developed partnership will provide funding to research, develop, pilot, and demonstrate the Unattended Water Safety analyzer to be used in potable water, reclaimed water, and wastewater systems. The new system will:

* Enable a rapid detection and response protocol to thwart chemicals, biological agents, and biotoxins
* Provide a low level to false alarms
* Deploy as part of an integrated water and wastewater monitoring and management system.

Currently, real-time, remote water quality monitoring is limited to detecting more traditional water-quality parameters, such as turbidity or the presence of dissolved solids, pH, nitrates and ammonia.

A press release announcing the introduction of the Unattended Water Safety System can be found at
NRDC Reports EPA Reversing Sewage Standards

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an anticipated new policy by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will allow operators to discharge inadequately treated sewage into U.S. waterways. The preemptive media announcement by the environmental advocacy group suggests that the new policy will contribute to public health hazards across the nation.

At issue is the process of “blending”, the accepted water treatment practice that allows sewage plant operators to route a portion of excess water in municipal sewage systems around the treatment process during heavy rains or other high water flow events. In the “blending” process the overflow effluent is treated with a disinfectant, such as chlorine, and mixed with fully treated sewage before discharge into public waterways. Standard sewage treatment involves a two-step process: the removal of solids and biological treatment of the waste effluent to kill bacterial and viral content. “Blending” bypasses strict adherence to the second step. However, proponents of the practice maintain it is an established treatment process that does not adversely affect public health.

The NRDC statement reports that under current sewage treatment standards, public health experts estimate that there are 7.1 million “mild-to-moderate” and 560,000 “moderate-to-severe” cases of infectious waterborne disease in the U.S. annually.

It is expected that the EPA will announce the new policy involving revised “blending” guidelines within the next few weeks.

Clean Drinking Water Project Launched in China

Senior Chinese officials have announced they are launching a long-term project to provide safe drinking water for all rural populations by the end of 2020. Achieving this goal would meet one of China’s key commitments under the United Nations Millennium Goals.

Sources report that the public health of more than 300 million residents in rural areas of China is threatened by the current lack of clean drinking water. A previous rural drinking water program was completed during the 10th Five-year Plan (2000-2004) and relieved water shortages to more than 57 million rural residents. In the past five years, reportedly more than 14 million rural families throughout 27 provinces have gained access to drinking water with more than 800,000 new water processing facilities going into operation.

Despite these substantive improvements, millions of rural residents remain without access to clean drinking water. Chinese officials are currently finalizing details of the upcoming plan for implementation.

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