Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – Jan 26th, 2004

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

January 26, 2004

DHS and USEPA Work to Coordinate Utility Visits

State and federal drinking water regulatory officials are currently working with the Protective Security Division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to improve coordination of water utility inspection visit by the DHS’s High Value Target Unit (HVTU). Some HVTU “site assist” visits, including a recent stop at a Tennessee water utility, have caught local water utility officials off-guard, raising questions regarding HVTU’s need for official inspection documentation and the potential for misrepresentation and security breach opportunities that surprise site visits may trigger.

DHS and the USEPA Water Security Division (WSD) are currently working together to improve methods for inspecting and understanding critical drinking water infrastructure vulnerabilities and security issues.

USEPA headquarters has reportedly asked DHS to cease the unannounced site inspections to water utilities. However, WSD acting director Jane Pawlukiewicz confirms that DHS officials “have every intention” of pursuing future visits in coordination with state and local drinking water officials. “If there are any more visits,” Pawlukiewicz says, “They will be coordinated.”

More information on this story and the DHS Protective Security Division’s Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate and water security at: ( PDF)

USEPA Developing Drinking Water Disinfection Byproducts Risk Assessment Tool

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is investigating development of a method to calculate the health effects from multiple exposures to disinfection byproducts found in drinking water. The proposed new calculation method, outlined in a new feasibility report issues by the agency, is described as an initial step toward developing a means of assessing human health risks associated with multiple exposure to disinfection byproducts.

Disinfection byproducts are formed when organic material in water reacts with substances, such as chlorine, used to disinfect water.

The new assessment platform would allow drinking water analysts to calculate the effects of simultaneous exposure to disinfection byproducts, including trihalomethanes, through ingestion, inhalation and skin contact. Humans may be exposed to hundreds of byproducts through all three routes of exposure during everyday activities such as drinking water, showering, using a dishwasher, and making coffee. However, it is currently unclear whether mixtures of the chemicals affect health and, if so, how it is accomplished.

The report, The Feasibility of Performing Cumulative Risk Assessments for Mixtures of Disinfection By-Products in Drinking Water, is available at

SARS Re-emerges in China

The SARS virus has surfaced again in China’s Guangdong Province. However, initial reports indicate the virus to be a milder form than last year’s outbreak variant that killed nearly 800 people worldwide.

Thus far there has been one confirmed and two suspected cases of SARS in 2004. Each patient has been treated and released from the hospital.

Guangdong health authorities have reportedly destroyed thousands of masked palm civets on farms and wildlife markets based on research evidence identifying select wildlife as likely transmitters of SARS-like viruses. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has responded with an immediate embargo on importing civets to the United States. The embargo applies to dead and live civets and civet products. Exceptions include processed civet products, such as fully taxidermied animals and finished trophies rendered non-infectious in their processing, as well as cats approved by the CDC for educational or scientific purposes.

According to China Daily, a SARS vaccine has been developed and is entering a preliminary clinical testing period. China is the first country to approve human trials of an experimental SARS vaccine. Recent clinical tests proved the vaccine was safe for use on laboratory animals.

Additional updates and information about SARS can be found at: and

New Avian Influenza Cases Reported in Asia

Officials in both Vietnam and Japan have confirmed outbreaks of avian influenza A virus infections. The Vietnamese episodes are reported to be of the H5N1 strain, and may be responsible for up to eleven recent deaths in Hanoi.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that both those who have died and those who have become ill had direct contact with live poultry before they became sick. WHO also confirmed that there is currently no evidence that human-to-human contact is responsible for transmission of the virus.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization stated that all infected animals must be eradicated to remove the threat of a full outbreak. Disinfection procedures, quarantine and a ban on the movement of domestic birds have also been recommended to contain the virus.

WHO is currently moving forward in the development of a vaccine effective against avian influenza infection in humans. If the virus outbreak in Vietnam proves to be similar to specimens from an outbreak discovered in Hong Kong in 2003, existing candidate vaccines from research surrounding the earlier outbreak could expedite the availability of a new vaccine.

Additional information about the outbreak is available at: and

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