Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – June 6th, 2003

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

June 6, 2003

WHO To Hold SARS Conference To Review Scientific Findings and Public Health Response

On June 17-18, 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) will hold the WHO Global Conference on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The conference will bring public health practitioners and leading experts on SARS together to review the scientific findings on SARS and examine the public health interventions to contain the disease. Experts from Vietnam, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Canada and the United States will discuss the lessons learned in their national response to SARS. Additional sessions at the conference will discuss clinical diagnosis and management, the possible role of animals, preparedness and response coordination, surveillance, blood safety and epidemiological modeling. As of June 2, 2003, the WHO has reported a total of 8,384 cases of SARS worldwide with 770 deaths reported. The United States has reported 66 cases, with no fatalities.

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FDA Continues to Recommend Hand Washing with Soap and Water for Retail and Food Service Establishments

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that they are working together to review new data and ensure that the best public health measures are in place for retail and food service establishments. The FDA continues to recommend soap and water hand washing for retail and food service workers. Certain hand sanitizers may be used after proper hand washing in retail and food service. Questions remain about using hand sanitizers in retail or food service settings because they have not been found effective against certain material and must also be approved as food additives. The CDC has approved alcohol-based hand gel as a suitable alternative to hand washing for healthcare personnel in healthcare settings. However, even in healthcare settings, the CDC guidelines recommend soap and water on hands that are visibly soiled rather than using alcohol-based sanitizers.

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Report Acknowledges Faults in Water Pollution Tracking System

According to an internal U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report, the computer system used by the agency to manage the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System is obsolete, full of faulty data and does not take into account thousands of significant pollution sources. According to an investigative report published in The New York Times, the flawed system is jeopardizing water pollution control strategies that call for the granting of new permits only after considering how much pollution is already flowing into a watershed. A new system was scheduled to be available online in May, but budgetary delays and problems with its development have pushed back the launch for at least three years. The EPA Inspector General’s report is the latest in a series of critical investigations into EPA’s enforcement of the Clean Water Act.

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Study Released on Indoor Swimming Pools

A Belgian study led by Dr. Alfred Bernard and published in Occupational and Environmental Health hypothesizes on a possible link between exposure to chlorine byproducts (chloramines) in indoor swimming pools and increasing childhood asthma rates. In addition, the researchers also postulate that regular attendance at indoor swimming pools by children is associated with an exposure dependent increase in lung epithelium permeability. Responding to the study, the National Spa and Pool Institute remarked, “The study is exploratory in nature and should not be cause for alarm by parents.” The Chlorine Chemistry Council points out that chlorine disinfectants play a vital role in eliminating waterborne germs and contaminants introduced by swimmers. According to Dr. Peyton Eggleston of the Johns Hopkins Hospital Health Information Network, “Swimming is an excellent sport for the asthmatic child. It is a form of exercise they tolerate well.” The researchers themselves encourage the undertaking of further epidemiological studies to test their hypothesis.

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