Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – January 27th, 2006

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

January 27, 2006
EPA Airline Water Quality Workshops Begin

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held the first in a series of workshops created to develop more effective drinking water standards for the airline industry. Participants included representatives of the Air Transport Association, Association of Flight Attendants, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Information gathered from the workshops will contribute to an aircraft water quality rule to be published in 2007. The final rule is slated for implementation in 2009.

As reported in “In the News” last February, EPA testing of more than 300 domestic and international flights in 2004 revealed that over 17 percent of 169 randomly selected aircraft carried water contaminated with total coliform bacteria. In 2005, EPA and 24 U.S.-based airlines entered into agreements that called for more frequent monitoring and reporting of drinking water quality on aircraft. The agreements also call for airlines to gather data and notify passengers about the use of foreign sources of water. EPA shares regulatory responsibility for airline drinking water systems with the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration.

According to the EPA, airlines frequently take on water from a variety of sources, including foreign airports with systems that are not subject to EPA drinking water standards. While EPA does not have the authority to regulate where airlines take on water, it currently regulates aircraft water systems that serve 25 or more people under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

To read more from the EPA on aircraft water supplies, please go to:
CDC: Post-Hurricane Mold Growth Becomes a Public Health Concern

According to a report in the current issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), almost half of the homes in four Louisiana parishes impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are showing extensive growth of potentially dangerous mold. Local healthcare providers and public health authorities have expressed concern about the potential for respiratory health effects from exposure to mold spores that are overwhelming the water-damaged homes. In early October, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (LDHH) invited the CDC to assist in documenting the extent of potential exposures.

The CDC reports that 46% of inspected homes had visible mold growth and that residents and remediation workers did not consistently use appropriate respiratory protection. From October 22-28, a team representing CDC and LDHH assessed a cross-section of the 440,269 households in the four-parish area. Of the 112 homes inspected as a representative sample of the area, visible mold growth occurred in 51 homes, 19 had heavy mold coverage and 44 showed no signs of mold damage.

The assessment team also conducted interviews with 159 residents and 76 remediation workers both in flooded communities and at worker gathering places. Nearly all residents and workers believed that mold would have adverse health effects. However, while the vast majority of the respondents correctly identified particulate-filter respirators as appropriate respiratory protection for cleaning of mold, more than half of did not always use appropriate respirators, citing either discomfort or the lack of availability.

To read the complete report by the CDC Mold Work Group, please go to:
Prevention Strategies and Possible Health Effects in the Aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita
NBC’s “Dateline” Reports Food Safety Begins in the Supermarket

A yearlong investigation of health-related conditions in the nation’s supermarkets found that grocery stores could be the breeding ground for human health risks, according to a food safety expert Jeffrey Nelken, who recently appeared on NBC’s “Dateline.” Results from the story “Supermarket Sweep” suggest that daily food handling practices and sanitary conditions present in supermarkets may make consumers more vulnerable to food borne illnesses, particularly high-risk individuals.

The report revealed a number of sanitation and cleanliness conditions that could turn a trip to the grocery store into a number of food safety risks. Included in the investigation’s findings and were:

* From the field to supermarket floor displays, produce has likely had contact with the hands of up to 30 people, not all of whom have followed basic hand washing practices.

* Produce workers do not normally wash knives used to trim fruits and vegetables. They often cut away brown spots, decayed edges or mold on produce and then put the knife back in the holder unwashed. The result can be exposure to bacteria that may lead to health problems.

* Produce is grown with the aid of fertilizer that contains manure. In the likely case that each fruit or vegetable is not washed thoroughly, shoppers could be exposed to hepatitis A or salmonella.

* Consumers need to be aware of the “Sell by” and “Use by” dates on fresh food packages. For packaged dairy products, the health quality remains for approximately 7-10 days from time of packaging, such as. For meats, it’s usually about three days.

In addition, to the supermarket findings, the investigation also provided tips for people to use in their homes. Examples of these include:

* Food in the refrigerator lasts for three to four days at maximum freshness and quality, losing 25 percent every day after that.

* Before you start food preparation, always wash hands and have your children wash their hands before start touching food.

* If packaged produce says it’s pre-washed, you should still wash it.

* Rinse produce with cold water before use. It will eliminate 98 percent of surface substances.

EPA Provides Faster Water Quality Tests for Safe Beach Swimming

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) researchers have developed a rapid method for testing beach water quality that will protect swimmer health, reducing bacterial contamination detection time from 24 hours to just two, according to the results of a study published in the January 2006 issue of “Environmental Health Perspectives.” According to the EPA, the study demonstrates a definite link between exposure to bacteria and swimmer health. The study’s results will support new federal criteria and limits for water quality indicators in recreational waters, the agency said.

Approximately 89 million Americans make use of recreational water areas each year. Water contaminated with bacteria or other pathogens from sewage can lead to gastrointestinal, respiratory, eye, and ear illnesses.

Results of the study were based on tests done at two Great Lakes beaches, which verified that the more rapid method accurately predicts possible adverse health effects from bacterial contamination. The EPA research used DNA analysis to quantify two types of bacteria, enterococci and bacteroides, in the water at two beaches on Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. The results of the water quality tests were then correlated to health surveys of beachgoers who swam at the beaches.

The research results are some of the first findings of the National Epidemiological and Environmental Assessment of Recreational (NEEAR) Water Study, a multi-year research project being conducted by EPA and the CDC.

To read more about the NEEAR study, please go to:

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