Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – December 5th, 2003

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

December 5, 2003

GAO Releases Report on Drinking Water Security

The General Accounting Office (GAO) recently released a report entitled “Drinking Water: Experts’ Views on How Future Federal Funding Can Best Be Spent to Improve Security.” The report, which was requested by the chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, identifies (1) the key security related vulnerabilities affecting the nation’s drinking water systems; (2) the criteria that should be used to determine how federal funds are allocated among recipients to improve their security, and the methods that should be used to distribute these funds; and (3) specific activities the federal government should support to improve drinking water security.

The report found that drinking water utilities across the country have long been recognized as potentially vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Damage or destruction by terrorists could disrupt not only the availability of safe drinking water, but also the delivery of vital services such as fire suppression. Such concerns were greatly amplified by the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and then by the discovery of training manuals in Afghanistan detailing how terrorist trainees could carry out attacks on drinking water systems.

Congress has since committed significant federal funding to assist drinking water utilities, with over $100 million appropriated through fiscal year 2004 to help systems assess their vulnerabilities to terrorist threats and develop response plans. The report concluded that efforts be made to improve security water utilities across the country by completing appropriate vulnerability assessments, designing security enhancement plans and developing emergency response plans.

For the complete GAO report, please visit: ( PDF)

New Manual Released on Controlling Infectious Diseases in Childcare Settings

The Hennepin County (MN) health department has published a comprehensive manual on controlling infectious diseases in childcare settings and schools. The manual provides information for directors, caregivers, parents or guardians and school health staff. It includes a section that provides general guidelines for cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting specific items commonly used in the childcare setting.

The recommendations call for using different concentrations of a bleach solution depending on the use of the items that must be disinfected. The manual suggests a bleach solution of 800 parts per million (approximately 1/4 cup of regular bleach or 3 1/3 tablespoons of “ultra” bleach per gallon of water) be used to disinfect surfaces that will not have contact with food or the mouth (e.g., changing tables, potty chairs, activity tables, floors). These bleach solutions are recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Public Health Association for use in childcare settings, because of the potential for high levels of fecal contamination.

The manual also recommends that a bleach solution of no more than 200 parts per million (approximately 1 tablespoon of regular bleach or 2 teaspoons of “ultra” bleach per gallon of water) be used to disinfect mouthed toys, eating utensils, and food-contact surfaces. To access the complete guidelines, please visit

Positive E. coli Test Prompts Boil Water Alert

More than 3,300 Point Evans (WA) water system customers were under a boil water alert for almost two days after routine testing showed E. coli bacteria in the water system. E. coli can cause severe diarrhea and abdominal cramps and frequently, no fever is present.

Residents were advised to buy bottled water or boil water for three to five minutes before using it for drinking, brushing teeth, dish washing, preparing food and making ice. Employees of the water system went door to door to notify residents of the alert.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the presence of E. coli in water is a strong indication of recent sewage or animal waste contamination. An inspection of the water system concluded the problem was caused by a poorly constructed reservoir overflow, which was repaired. The contamination was isolated to a storage tank.

The Point Evans water system, which normally does not use chlorine, was chlorinated to destroy the bacteria and restore delivery potable water. After the alert was lifted, the Washington Water Service advised residents who had shut off or not used fixtures and equipment over the last few days to flush the fixtures and equipment until there was a change in water temperature before putting them back in use.

Thanks to the quick action no illnesses were reported as a result of the contamination.

More information is available at: News/03-184.htm and News/03-182.htm

Cholera Outbreaks Hit Mali and Zimbabwe

As the result of an outbreak of cholera in Mali between August 11 and November 9, 2003, authorities have reported 693 cases and 55 deaths in three regions along the Niger River: Segou, Mopti and Koulikoro. In the same period, there have been only four cases of cholera in Bamako and no fatalities. The strain of cholera bacteria involved is Vibrio cholerae El Tor. This outbreak follows heavy rains, which led to extensive flooding in the Niger valley.

In addition, approximately 40 people have died of cholera in two districts in northern Zimbabwe in recent weeks, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) confirmed. Cholera is an infectious, potentially fatal disease that thrives in conditions of poor hygiene and inadequate water supplies. The bacterium is spread by food and water that have been contaminated by the feces of an infected person. After one to five days of being infected, the patient develops severe, painless, watery diarrhea. Vomiting occurs in most patients. Usually, the symptoms are relatively mild and respond to oral rehydratation.

For more information, please visit:

Mehan Resigns as Head of EPA Water Office

G. Tracey Mehan III, Assistant Administrator for Water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), announced on November 21, 2003 that he will leave the agency effective December 29, 2003. He did not say why he was leaving. Mehan has held the position since August 2001.

In a letter to President Bush, Mehan noted the Administration’s recent accomplishments including: helping communities across the country meet growing infrastructure demands fueled by population growth, securing water and wastewater infrastructure against terrorist threats, and embarking on a campaign to significantly improve the ability to monitor the nation’s water.

A press release is available at:

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