Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – December 21st, 2001

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

December 21, 2001

Trace Amounts of Anthrax Remain in Senate Office Building

The Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC remains closed as officials continue decontamination efforts after an anthrax-filled letter was opened in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s (D-SD) office. The building, which was closed on October 17th, was initially fumigated on December 1st using chlorine dioxide gas. That effort was successful in killing much of the anthrax spores; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on-scene coordinator Richard Rupert said post-fumigation analysis showed trace amounts of spores remained on nine out of 377 test samples taken from office surfaces. To ensure the complete safety of the building, officials decided to re-fumigate the ventilation system. However, an apparent blockage in the building’s ventilation system prevented workers from creating a sufficient vapor concentration for killing anthrax. It is unclear when decontamination efforts will resume.

For additional information, visit

USDA Not Allowed to Close Sub-Standard Meat Processing Plants

A federal appeals court recently ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) may no longer shut down meat processing plants that consistently fail to control salmonella contamination. The ruling arose from a lawsuit filed against the USDA by the National Meat Association (NMA)-backed Supreme Beef Processors Inc.; the USDA closed their plant after they failed three different salmonella tests. The NMA asserted that the contamination was not a result of poor on-site sanitation, arguing that salmonella contamination typically occurs at slaughterhouses and not processing facilities. Though the USDA rarely used its authority to close plants, the agency is concerned that this ruling impedes its ability to regulate plants that repeatedly output contaminated meat.

To view the USDA’s statement, visit

CDC Endorses Drinking Water Fluoridation

A recent CDC report recommends community water fluoridation and school dental sealant programs to help strengthen children’s teeth. Community water fluoridation programs adjust natural fluoride levels in local water systems to the optimal level for preventing tooth decay, approximately one part per million. Dental sealants are plastic substances that coat natural pits and fissures in teeth to block unwanted cavity-causing bacteria. As over 90 percent of adults experience tooth decay, the CDC report seeks to convince the public that the suggested preventative measures are necessary and beneficial. The CDC notes, “Tooth decay typically decreased by 30 percent to 50 percent after starting or continuing water fluoridation.”

For more information, visit

MIT Researchers Help Bring Clean Water to Developing Nations

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working on a research program to help provide clean drinking water for people in developing countries. The project involves graduate students working in Nepal, Haiti and Brazil to test the “real world” use and effectiveness of small-scale drinking-water treatment systems for individual families. Now in its third year, the project evaluates systems for technical performance, cost, social acceptability and project sustainability. According to UNICEF, some 1.7 billion people worldwide lacked access to clean drinking water in 2000. In Nepal alone, some 44,000 children under the age of five die every year form waterborne diseases.

To learn more about MIT’s Nepal Water Project and other efforts, visit

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