Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – June 11th, 2004

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

June 11, 2004

Outbreak of Gastroenteritis Strikes in Pakistan

Polluted water in the southern Pakistani city of Hyderabad has resulted in 30 deaths and over 3,000 hospital admissions since the contamination was first identified nearly a month ago. Since May 15, government and private hospitals have been inundated with victims suffering from ailments ranging from acute gastroenteritis, skin rashes, dysentery and other abdominal disorders.

The polluted water, which is highly saline and stagnant, was discharged from a lake into the Indus river and has partially contaminated the city’s water supply. Hyderabad requires an estimated 70 million gallons of water daily, but is currently only receiving 40 million gallons. As a result, fresh water in some areas of Hyderabad is not being supplied and residents are still drinking stagnant water.

It has been reported that Pakistani officials did not have enough money to treat the water with bacteria-killing chlorine in months prior to the water discharge, which has further exacerbated the public health emergency. Warnings have gone out from doctors in the city that drinking the water is only safe if the water has been boiled.
Hospitals Receive Federal Funds to Combat Bioterror

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently awarded states, territories and several major metropolitan areas with nearly $500 million in grant monies to improve hospital readiness across the country in the event of bioterror attacks, infectious diseases and natural disasters that would trigger mass casualties. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. were named as the selected metropolitan areas that will receive the HHS funds.

Health departments will utilize the federal grants to streamline communications and improve coordination between public health laboratories and hospital-based laboratories in responding to bioterror attacks or disease outbreaks, including SARS or West Nile virus. In addition, funds will be used to increase coordination on disease reporting among hospitals and local and state health departments. Other uses designated for the funding include providing for behavioral health services, trauma and burn care, and purchasing communications equipment and personal protective gear.

For further information regarding HHS Bioterror preparedness efforts, please go to:
Land Conservation May Protect Drinking Water Supplies

A recently issued report by the Trust for Public Land (TPL) suggests that land conservation can lead to the better protection of source water. The report, Protecting the Source, claims that land conservation and better watershed management practices are necessary to reduce pollutant loads to aquifers, rivers and other drinking water sources.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, primary causes of decreased drinking water sources are “nonpoint” sources of pollution, such as runoff from farms, yards and city streets. The TPL report recommends the following five-point strategy to improve efforts to protect water sources:

* An improved understanding of the watershed to design effective source protection plans
* The use of maps to prioritize protection
* Creation of stronger partnerships to ensure coverage through multiple jurisdictions
* Establishment of a comprehensive source protection plan
* Increased efforts to secure funding from local, state and federal governments

Additionally, the TPL study asserts that the expansion in real estate development has advanced the problem of pollutants in drinking waste, offering that extended commercial and residential land use removes natural buffers and the introduction of paved areas prevents groundwater recharge.

To download the Trust for Public Land Protecting the Source report, please click on to TPL Protecting the Source Report.
Shift Research to Distribution, Watershed Protection Issues, Panel Says

The Science Advisory Board’s (SAB) Drinking Water Committee says that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should focus more of its research on contaminant candidate lists, watershed protection and drinking water distribution systems than on high-level arsenic exposure and disinfection byproducts.

According to a Bureau of National Affairs article, the advisory group’s draft comments were made at a May 24-25 meeting held to evaluate the EPA’s multi-year drinking water research strategy. Panel members suggested that research being conducted regarding exposure to very high levels of arsenic was not relevant to the United States. Additionally, the SAB panelists expressed skepticism that the current level of funding for drinking water research was commensurate with EPA’s regulatory mission.

Additional recommendations from the panel included clarifying the roles of stakeholder groups on scientific issues and prioritizing emphasis on the risk posed by contaminants, as well as defining research efforts regarding accidental or natural contamination and strengthening the collaboration on research with additional federal and state agencies and other research entities.

It was reported that the SAB executive committee will consider the drinking water committee’s review of the multi-year plan at a gathering in either September or December of this year.

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