Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – July 5th, 2002

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

July 5, 2002

EPA Refining its Counter-Terrorism Role

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials recently drafted its strategy for the agency’s role in responding to potential terrorist attacks – with the broad goal of hiring a large number of emergency responders and increasing the agency’s understanding of chemical and biological contaminants. The EPA’s strategy includes providing technical assistance to industry, improving information gathering and protecting agency personnel and infrastructure. The strategy further requires the EPA to defend critical infrastructure by sharing technical expertise with sectors such as the water treatment and chemical industries.

For more information on the EPA’s plans, visit

International Committee Cites Acrylamide as “Major Concern”

This week, a panel consisting of officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concluded that a chemical produced in the cooking of starchy foods poses a “major concern.” Potato chips and french fries, among others foods, contain elevated levels of acrylamide, a substance that is known to cause cancer in animals. While the committee expressed its concern about the chemical, scientists have not yet determined the magnitude of the risk. Recent studies found the average intake levels of acrylamide from all sources were determined to be in the range of 70 micrograms per day for an adult, a range significantly below that which is known to cause harm in laboratory animals. Dieter Arnold of Germany’s Federal Institute for Health Protection of Consumers and chair of the international meeting stated: “After reviewing all the available data, we have concluded that the new findings constitute a serious problem…. But our current limited knowledge does not allow us to answer all the questions which have been asked by consumers, regulators and other interested parties.” Following the release of this study, Dr. Lester M. Crawford, Deputy Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asserted that the “FDA is unaware of any present data regarding acrylamide that would cause FDA to alter its current dietary recommendations for consumers.”

To learn more, visit and

Scientists to Begin Testing E. Coli Sensor

Scientists are nearing the completion of a handheld sensor that would rapidly pinpoint the presence of a deadly E. coli strain in food and drink. The device, which will undergo initial tests in July, “may help prevent people from getting sick and save money as far as medical treatment goes but the ultimate concern is consumer safety,” said chemist Richard Durst of Cornell University. The new device is said to be able to detect high levels of E. coli within ten minutes. Current tests for E. Coli use a dipstick method, in which results can take up to a full day to complete. Each year, 73,000 Americans get sick from undercooked beef and 2,100 people are hospitalized from food poisoning.

For a detailed explanation of the device, visit:

Legionnaires’ Disease Strikes Nursing Home and Hospital

Last month, a 75-year-old man and 102-year-old woman died of Legionnaires’ Disease and several others became ill at a Philadelphia-area nursing home. Since January, the disease also has sickened nine people in a downtown Los Angeles hospital. Both institutions examined and decontaminated the affected wards; the nursing home is still looking for the outbreak’s cause and the hospital concluded that their cases resulted from cardiac procedures it performed, such as the insertion of a temporary pacemaker and coronary artery bypass surgery. Legionnaires’ Disease is particularly dangerous to the elderly and infirm. The disease breeds in such common places as air conditioning systems, shower heads, hot water heaters and other moist areas.

To learn more about the disease, visit:

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