Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – June 2nd, 2006

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

June 2, 2006

Bird Flu Fears Prompt Early Release of WHO Influenza Guidelines

In an action spurred by rising concerns of a potential avian flu pandemic, member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) have agreed to issue a set of global influenza health regulations one year earlier than planned. Originally slated to take effect in June 2007, the guidelines were developed by the World Health Assembly in 2005 as part of the revised International Health Regulations (IHR). The revised IHR is a public health resolution requiring international states to report to WHO all public health emergency events having the capacity to impact global disease spread. Previously, nations were only required to notify WHO regarding cases of cholera, plague and yellow fever. Noting that rapid detection and timely reporting of human cases will underpin WHO’s risk assessment and response effort in the event of a global avian flu outbreak, the World Health Assembly included the following measures for nations to support: § Provide transparent and urgent notification to WHO of any probable or confirmed cases of avian influenza § Create provisions for public health measures for travelers § Develop domestic influenza vaccine production in the event of a public health emergency The IHR also covers regulations related to outbreak surveillance, public health information sharing, consultation, verification, public health response, and public health measures for travelers. To read more about the 2005 International Health Regulations, please go to: Application of the International Health Regulations – 2005

EPA: Small Drinking Water System Outbreak Data Underreported

According to a report released May 30 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Inspector General (OIG), the EPA lacks sufficient health data on small drinking water systems, creating a vast underreporting of U.S. waterborne disease outbreaks. The report, “Much Effort and Resources Needed to Help Small Drinking Water Systems Overcome Challenges,” cites the condition that most small water system data is provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) voluntary Waterborne Outbreak Surveillance System as the source of the informational disconnect and the overall misstatement of waterborne disease risk. The well-documented 1993 Milwaukee Cryptosporidiosis outbreak highlights the problem of underreporting. During that public health crisis, the local health community identified approximately 400,000 cases of infection. Yet only 20 total cases were reported through the CDC surveillance system. The EPA OIG’s report also observes that the limited resources afforded smaller drinking water systems make public exposure to “disinfectable pathogens” more likely. According to a 2002 CDC article cited in the evaluation, small drinking water systems were considered less likely to have adequate chlorination and proper monitoring for contaminants, making them “an important source of infection with E. coli O157:H7 and other pathogens.” The OIG’s report concludes with a recommendation that collaborative efforts between EPA and CDC should continue toward the improvement of a system for identifying drinking water related health outbreaks. For a copy of the May 2006 EPA OIG’s evaluation report, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/oig/reports/2006/20060530-2006-P-00026.pdf

New Study Shows Chloramines Linked to Lead in Drinking Water

Reported in the May 15 issue of Environmental Science & Technology, a new research study on corrosion in water system piping demonstrates that lead scales on pipes are more likely to leech into drinking water when chloramines are used as a disinfectant. Conducted by University of Missouri-Rolla chemist Jay Switzer, the real-time experiment on corroded lead piping tracked reactions between lead and chlorine or chloramines. According to the findings, free chlorine stabilized the lead film inside the pipe, while chloramines dissolved the film. Over the past several years, a number of U.S. water treatment systems have made the switch to chloramines, a combination of chlorine and ammonia, to comply with federal standards aimed at minimizing levels of disinfection byproducts (DBPs) attributed to free chlorine disinfection. Based on data developed during Washington DC’s drinking water crisis in 2004, the new research demonstrates the connection between a switch from chlorine to chloramines and the leeching of lead from aging pipes into public water systems. In a story followed by “In the News,” lead concentrations in residential DC drinking water spiked at more than 48,000 parts per billion after the District’s Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) switched from chlorine to chloramines for local drinking water disinfection. The incident touched off months of investigation and a review of DC drinking water disinfection policy. The study concluded with a recommendation that pipe-scale chemistry be carefully evaluated before a switch in disinfection chemistry in implemented. To view a brief abstract of the study, please go to: http://pubs.acs.org/cgi-bin/abstract.cgi/esthag/2006/40/i10/abs/es052411r.html The full reading of the Switzer study may be purchased for $25.00 through the American Chemistry Society Web site at ACS – “Evidence that Monochloramine Disinfectant Could Lead to Elevated Pb Levels in Drinking Water”
2005 DWSRF Program Annual Report Released

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its 2005 annual report for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) program in May. Operating in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, the DWSRF program has financed nearly 4,400 projects with loans totaling almost $11.5 billion through 2005, according to the overview. Since 2000, the DWSRF has averaged more than $1.3 billion in annual assistance to drinking water systems. First introduced in 1997 as part of the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the DWSRF helps states finance infrastructure improvements for public water systems and other activities that support drinking water programs and promote public health protection. Guidelines of the DWSRF provide that states must give priority to projects that: 1) Address the most serious risks to public health; 2) Are necessary to ensure system can meet health-based drinking water standards; and 3) Assist systems most in need on a per-household basis. According to EPA, the program emphasizes financial assistance to small water systems, including private systems, that have difficulty finding financing. However, the 2005 report details that while 73% of DWSRF projects supported systems serving less that 10,000 people, only 39% of assistance funds went to smaller systems. Additionally, data accuracy for the program has been identified as a problem area. In March 2004, the EPA Inspector General concluded that the reporting on the program’s performance was incorrect due to flawed data gathering through the agency’s drinking water compliance reporting system, Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS). For more information on the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund Program, including the 2005 Annual Report, please go to: http://www.epa.gov/safewater/dwsrf/index.html

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