Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – January 24th, 2005

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

January 24, 2005

Panel Has Questions For EPA Drinking Water Research Plan

According to a draft review by the Science Advisory Board Drinking Water Committee (DWC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) draft plan for long-term drinking water research should shift its focus to issues that pose the greatest health risk. According to the DWC’s draft report, such an approach probably would lead to an emphasis in microbial contaminants and chemical mixtures, and de-emphasis of disinfection byproducts (DBPs), particularly single compound driven research.

While generally supportive of the EPA approach, the DWC submitted questions including the following areas:

* DBPs — The panel made inquiries into whether there is sufficient focus on analytical methods and the occurrence of potentially harmful DBPs other than trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids.
* Microbial pathogens — The panel raised questions regarding the effectiveness of source water monitoring and suggested placing more emphasis on viruses, groundwater and small systems issues.
* Unregulated contaminants — The panel questioned the level of emphasis placed on both the acute risks posed by microbial pathogens and the methods used for verifying the performance of watershed protection practices and the protection of distribution systems.

In their review of the agency’s plan for water research from 2003 to 2010, the DWC panel also suggests that the agency increase research resources prior to the promulgation of regulations and reduce them afterwards.

To read the complete SAB draft Drinking Water Research report, please go to:
EPA Drinking Water Research Program Multi-Year Plan 2003 ( PDF)
Science Panel Challenges EPA’s Perchlorate Risk Assessment

The National Research Council (NRC), a panel of The National Academy of Sciences, has issued a report finding that perchlorate is toxic at levels less stringent than U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines. Findings in the NRC’s “Health Implications of Perchlorate Ingestion,” provides for a maximum daily dose of perchlorate that is 23 times higher than what the EPA had proposed.

Perchlorate is an ingredient of solid rocket fuel used primarily by the military and NASA that has been identified as a contaminant in drinking water and food in 35 states. It is estimated that more than 11 million Americans have perchlorate in their drinking water at concentrations of 4 parts per billion or higher. It has been determined that perchlorate interferes with the human thyroid gland, which controls development of the brain in infancy.

In its report, the NRC suggested a “reference dose” of 0.0007 milligrams per kilogram of body weight that would not cause any human health effects if consumed daily in water or food. EPA had proposed a reference dose of 0.00003 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) of body weight, which the agency said would correspond to a drinking-water concentration of 1 part per billion. The NAS report did not include a corresponding drinking-water concentration because the assumptions used to derive drinking-water standards involve public-policy choices that were beyond the committee’s charge. However from a strictly scientific perspective, the reference dose recommended by the NRC would suggest that 23 parts per billion in drinking water would not cause any human health effects.

The NRC study was sponsored by the EPA, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Energy, and NASA. It will be available for purchase from National Academies Press in the near future.

For a brief overview of the report, “Health Implications of Perchlorate Ingestion”, please go to:
EPA Leads Effort to Improve Septic System Programs

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) along with eight national septic system organizations last week formalized a program designed to improve wastewater management for 25 million homes nation-wide. The agreement initiates the development of a national action plan that will upgrade the performance of decentralized wastewater treatment systems (commonly called septic systems) by facilitating collaboration between EPA headquarters, EPA regions, state and local governments and national organizations representing practitioners and assistance providers.

The signed memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the EPA and the national septic system group seeks to improve the siting, design and maintenance of septic systems, which are used in nearly 25 percent of homes and in one-third of new housing and commercial development. Septic systems can be an effective option for managing wastewater if properly designed, installed, and managed. According to the EPA, however, 10 to 20 percent of decentralized systems not properly functioning, posing a significant threat to public health and the environment. Currently decentralized systems rate second only to underground storage tank leakage as the largest threat to groundwater quality in the U.S.

To read more about the Decentralized Wastewater Management Program MOU, please go to: Decentralized Wastewater Management Program MOU.

Threat of Malaria Looms in Tsunami-Affected Region

Nearly one month after the tsunami that decimated regions of South and Southeast Asia, health and medical authorities are bracing for a potential major outbreak of malaria in Indonesia. The combination of the tsunamis and heavy seasonal rain has reportedly created the largest set of mosquito breeding sites in the nation’s history. Local public health organizations estimate that an additional 100,000 deaths could result from the potential outbreak.

Malaria is now expected to be a more looming threat than cholera, dysentery, typhoid and other waterborne diseases that usually tend to spring up in the days immediately after a disaster, when clean water is scarce.

The risk of a malarial outbreak has been elevated several weeks after the tsunami as disease-carrying mosquitoes have begun to breed unabated in stagnant, fresh water. While water that came ashore from the tsunami has been standing for more than three weeks, as seawater it did not serve as a breeding environment for mosquitoes. However, with the advent of the rainy season, the salt water has quickly become diluted, turning brackish to fresh — an ideal environment for mosquito breeding.

To date, only seven cases of malaria have been reported, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) officials. However, that number of cases is predicted to escalate quickly as a systematic detection program to monitor a malaria outbreaks following the natural disaster was put into place only a short time ago.

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