Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – March 29th, 2002

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

March 29, 2002

House Mulls Food Safety Options

In mid-March, a U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee held a hearing on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) food safety performance record. USDA Undersecretary Elsa Murano insisted that the agency performs its functions well, especially its heightened efforts to prevent bioterrorism from striking our nation’s food supply. Responding to recent criticism that imported beef was improperly screened in the past, Murano promised more stringent oversight, including the possibility of dispatching inspectors to Mexico to ensure that meatpackers there are complying with U.S. standards. At the same hearing, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge noted that the Administration is considering the creation of a single food safety agency that would assume the roles currently divided between the USDA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

For more information on the USDA’s food safety and security policies, visit

House Committee Increases Water Infrastructure Spending

Last week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved a $20 billion legislative package to reauthorize the Clean Water Act’s State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF) for the next five years. The legislation increases the SRF funding by $1 billion per year (from the current level of $1.35 billion) until it reaches $6 billion in 2007. Additionally, the bill would require states to develop a method for prioritizing water infrastructure projects based on water quality benefits and affordability. The measure must now be approved by the full House of Representatives and the Senate before reaching the desk of President Bush.

To learn more about this legislative initiative, visit

Study Reveals New Data About Organic Contaminants in Streams

On March 13, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released a study of pharmaceuticals, hormones and other organic wastewater chemicals in streams across America. The study found that these substances can be detected at very low levels in freshwater. Many of the chemicals examined do not have drinking water standards. However, the measured concentrations of compounds that do have standards or criteria rarely exceed any of them. The study determined that certain chemicals can enter the environment through a variety of wastewater sources. The USGS indicated that further research based on this study’s findings may address how far downstream from their sources the chemicals exist and how climate, land use, flow rates or waste treatment affect the concentrations.

To read “Pharmaceuticals, Hormones, and Other Organic Wastewater Contaminants in U.S. Streams, 199-2000: A National Reconnaissance,” visit

Rate of Cholera Cases in the Americas Drops

In 1991, cholera struck the Americas for the first time in the twentieth century, leading to an all-out pandemic that began in Peru and quickly spread to neighboring countries. By the year 2000, the disease had spread to 21 of the 35 countries representing the Region of the Americas. In addition to Peru, several nations – including Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua – lost hundreds of citizens to the deadly disease. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) responded by allocating monetary, human and technical resources to help combat the disease’s spread in unsanitary conditions. According to PAHO, the result has been a significant decline in the rate of the disease among the countries affected. Overcrowding, drinking water shortages, improper disposal of human waste, contaminated food – in combination with man-made and natural disasters -all contributed to the rapid spread of the disease in the last decade. Cholera, an intestinal infection spread through water or food entering the body, can be treated with fluids and electrolyte replacement. Antibiotics are used in more severe cases.

For more information, please visit:

Disease-Tracking Network Proposed in Senate

Sparked by an outbreak of leukemia among 15 children in the Fallon, NV area, Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) are planning to introduce legislation calling for the development of a nationwide health tracking system. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) already tracks infectious diseases, but to date, chronic diseases such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, autism and cancer have not been tracked. Details of the Clinton-Reid bill are still uncertain, but according to the Senators, the legislation will direct federal agencies to begin tracking chronic diseases as well as environmental factors so that possible correlations could be more easily detected.

To view Senator Reid’s statement, please visit:

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