Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – December 5th, 2005

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

December 5, 2005

Wastewater Security Bill Introduced

U.S. Senator Jim Jeffords, (I -VT), ranking member of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, recently introduced legislation authorizing $265 million to bolster the safety and security of the nation’s wastewater treatment plants. According to Jeffords, the bill represents a first step in closing the security gaps that make our wastewater treatment systems vulnerable to a terrorist attack.

There are 16,000 wastewater treatment facilities across the United States serving almost 190 million people. Approximately 1,600 facilities are located near large metropolitan areas.

The Wastewater Treatment Works Security Act of 2005 would require all wastewater facilities in the United States to conduct vulnerability assessments, develop site security and emergency response plans, and considers alternative approaches to potentially high-risk treatment methods. The bill provides $250 million in funds to prepare and implement plans, research innovative technologies and assist small communities in complying with the requirements. It also authorizes $15 million for research to identify threats, detection methods and response actions.

The proposed act will codify what are currently voluntary prevention and security measures and will require all wastewater facilities to complete vulnerability assessments and emergency response plans, just as drinking water facilities have done since 2002.

To read the complete legislation, please go to:
S. 1995 – Wastewater Treatment Works Security Act of 2005

Agreement on Three New Drinking Water Rules

An agreement has been reached requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to finalize three rules regulating microbial contaminants and disinfection byproducts. On November 17, EPA signed a consent decree with the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental advocacy groups, agreeing to issue the three drinking water regulations by specified dates.

First, under the new agreement the EPA will adopt a new rule requiring treatment and monitoring for suppliers drawing from surface waters. Known as the Long-Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule (LT2), this effort is a preventive measure to help avert Cryptosporidium and other parasites from contaminating tap water. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Crypto” is one of the most common causes of waterborne disease in the United States.

Second, EPA agreed to adopt the Stage 2 Disinfection Byproducts Rule (Stage 2 DBPR) limiting the acceptable level of disinfection byproducts, compounds formed unintentionally when disinfectants react with organic material (such as decomposed leaves) naturally present in water. According to EPA, these two rules set for by adoption by December 15 are coordinated to balance the complex risk trade-offs between eradication of microbial contaminants by current water disinfection processes and the creation of byproducts that present potential health risks. The Stage 2 DBPR and LT2 were developed through negotiations with multiple stakeholders, including EPA, environmentalists, industry and public health officials.

Finally, EPA has also agreed to publish a rule no later than August 2006 requiring systems using groundwater to disinfect source water when necessary.

To read more from the EPA on this issue, please go to:

Chemical Spill Cuts Off Water Supplies in China

Chinese officials have continued to cut off water supplies to communities along the poisoned Songhua River in the wake of a November 13 toxic chemical spill caused by a plant explosion. According to a spokesperson from the government’s Municipal Water Supply Group, the industrial accident in the northern-most part of the country reportedly dumped more than 100 tons of benzene into the river.

The Chinese government was forced to shut off running water to 3.8 million residents of the city of Harbin for five days, restoring service last Sunday but warning that the water wasn’t yet safe to drink. The shut downs continued the following day with 10,000 people going without water service in the downstream areas of Yilan County. Beijing has offered no estimates on how many people rely on the Songhua for drinking water.

The disaster has highlighted the precarious state of China’s water supplies. The country’s 1.3 billion people and the factories and farms of its booming economy compete for scarce water supplies. Due to its vast population, China ranks among countries with the smallest water supplies per person.

The Songhua River flows into the larger Heilong River, which is called the Amur in Russia. Within days Russian authorities were bracing for the arrival of the 50-mile long stretch of cancer-causing chemical stream. Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry said the pollutants could affect 70 Russian cities and villages with a total of over 1 million residents along the Amur River, including Khabarovsk, a city of 580,000.

AWWA Report Provides Help to Water Systems on Corrosion Control

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) has released a new report intended to assist water systems across the country to understand, anticipate and avoid unintended corrosion control consequences brought about by operational or source water changes to their systems. The report, “Managing Change and Unintended Consequences: Lead and Copper Rule Corrosion Control Treatment” addresses the current climate of change in water system management, offering that water utilities mandated to alter their operations with new disinfection regimes can face critical challenges to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) and overall drinking water purity and health.

As explored by the AWWA findings, serious drinking water quality issues can be an unintended consequence of efforts to change or update disinfection practices, particularly in the areas of corrosion, stability of existing pipe scales. To comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Stage 1 Disinfection and Disinfection Byproducts Rule (Stage 1 DBPR), many water systems have changes from free chlorine to chloramines for secondary water disinfection. With these switches in water disinfection chemistry has come difficulties for corrosion control treatment (CCT), the technique for controlling lead levels in drinking water. “Optimized” CCT is required by the LCR for water utilities serving more than 50,000 people. But as the AWWA report suggests, managing the proper balance between corrosion control and meeting the goals of the Stage 1 DBPR is the challenge of water system operators. The conflict between the two objectives of optimized CCT can result in unstable drinking water quality for large portions of a local population.

To mediate these circumstances, the AWWA report provides evaluation summaries to help water system managers identify changes in their operations that may have negative impacts on CCT. It also includes a progression of assessment and diagnostic tools that system operators can use to calculate the potential for impact on the CCT, including expanded baseline monitoring, supplemental tap water testing, desk-top studies and treatment simulations.

A recent example of the unintended consequences to municipal water quality can be found in the 2004 crisis faced by the Washington, DC Water and Sewer Authority (WASA). After a change in the disinfection regime from free chlorine to chloramines, high levels of lead were detected in portions of the District’s drinking water supply. Tap water in the nation’s capital was found to contain lead in excess of the EPA’s “action level” of 15 parts per billion (ppb). Water entering 157 homes had lead levels higher than 300 ppb.

The AWWA report is currently available to AWWA members only.

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