Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – March 24th, 2006

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

March 24, 2006

US Agencies Launch Joint Bird Flu Detection Plan

In a Washington, DC press conference earlier this week, the heads of three federal agencies unveiled a joint plan for quick detection of the avian influenza virus (H5N1), a move made in anticipation of the virus entering the United States. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Mike Johanns, U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Gale Norton and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Michael Leavitt released the interagency plan in an effort to prepare the U.S. population for the potential arrival of the H5N1 virus in the near future.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection, the H5N1 virus is an influenza A virus subtype occurring mainly in birds that is highly contagious and often deadly in bird populations. While H5N1 virus does not normally infect people, disease incidents have occurred in humans. Most of these cases have resulted from people having direct or close contact with H5N1-infected poultry or H5N1-contaminated surfaces.

As part of the interagency plan, authorities expect to collect 75,000 to 100,000 samples of either sick or dead birds or live wild bird for testing in 2006. The USDA and DOI have tested more than 16,000 birds in the Pacific and Atlantic migration routes since 1998, according to the agencies. The birds have all tested negative for the lethal H5N1 strain, but 22 low-pathogenicity avian flu isolates have been identified.

The joint plan relies on a number of methods to screen wild birds, specifically systematic monitoring of birds, which offers the highest probability for early detection of the H5N1. The plan includes:

* Testing of sick or dead wild birds and live wild birds, particularly the highest-risk species, using capture and sampling

* Targeted sampling of hunter-killed birds

* Monitoring and testing of sentinel animals, including backyard poultry flocks and waterfowl placed in wetlands to mix with migratory birds

* Testing of environmental samples, including water and avian fecal samples

To read the complete plan, please go to:
http://www.pandemicflu.gov/issues/screening.html

For more information from the CDC on the H5N1 virus, please go to:
http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avian/gen-info/facts.htm

For an analysis on a potential H5N1 virus human pandemic by the Water Quality & Health Council’s Ralph Morris MD, MPH, please go to:
http://waterandhealth.org/newsletter/avian_influenza.html


EPA, WHO Water Safety Information Web Portal Unveiled

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) joined with the World Health Organization (WHO) at the Fourth World Water Forum in Mexico City to launch a new Internet resource providing information and technical assistance to those suffering from water-related diseases. The “WSPortal” will assist countries in delivering safe drinking water to their citizens by using Water Safety Plans (WSPs), health-based risk assessments that identify problems in a water system and chart corrective actions to take.

The EPA, which is involved in WSP demonstration projects in Jamaica and India, has provided initial financial assistance in development of the WSPortal.

Developed to help countries preempt water system problems before they contaminate drinking water and cause illness, the WSPortal aims to contribute to the improvement and maintenance of piped drinking water supply safety through the effective implementation of WSPs. The WSPortal is hosted on the WHO website and represents a new level of safe drinking water delivery best practices through the use of WSPs. The elements of the WSP process are illustrated on the Portal as follows:

According to WHO, over three billion people worldwide annually are affected by water-related diseases, most are children under the age of five.

The view the new WSPortal, please go to:
http://www.who.int/wsportal

Disinfection Byproduct Concern May Complicate Use of Chloramines in California

California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has drafted a new public health goal (PHG) for drinking water that could pose problems for water utilities that have recently moved away from free chlorine treatment. The draft PHG applies to N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), a disinfection byproduct (DBP) created by chloramines.

Chloramines, formed by combining a specific ratio of chlorine and ammonia in drinking water, are increasingly used as an alternative to free chlorine in municipal drinking water disinfection processes. Chloramines are less reactive with organic matter than free chlorine and produce lower levels of regulated DBPs such as trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs). However, chloramines may form higher levels of unregulated byproducts, including NDMA.

There is currently no state or federal standard for NDMA in drinking water. OEHHA’s draft PHG is 0.003 micrograms per liter, a level likely to be exceeded in systems using chloramines. Although having no official regulatory effect, if adopted the draft PHG would be considered by the state Department of Health Services when the agency establishes an enforceable maximum contaminant level (MCL) for NDMA in drinking water. The ensuing standard could potentially render chloramine disinfection practices unworkable.

NDMA is also a component of rocket fuel and has been found to contaminate underground aquifers. According to OEHHA, the contaminant has been detected in very small amounts in food and some consumer products.

For more information on California and NDMA, please go to:
http://www.dhs.ca.gov/ps/ddwem/chemicals/ndma/NDMAindex.htm

New U.K. Spa Pool Public Health Guidelines Issued

The British Health Protection Agency (HPA) has issued new guidelines warning both commercial and domestic owners of spa pools about health risks associated with improper equipment maintenance. The agency also outlined tips for spa pool users, emphasizing common sense personal hygiene practices as a way to avoid infections from spa use.

According to the HPA, due to elevated water temperature spa pools provide perfect conditions for a number of bacteria to survive and infect unsuspecting users. The new guidance sets out the specific responsibilities to manage commercially run spa pools and ensure that staff and recreational users in the pool have adequate protections. HPA identifies proper disinfection practices, draining spas once a week and the use of proper filtration as maintenance keys to avoiding conditions for bacteria growth, avoiding the potential for infection.

Additionally, spa pool users are advised to follow basic precautionary measures to reduce health risks, including the following:

* Do not exceed 15 minutes in a spa at a time
* Do not put your heads underwater or swallow the spa water
* Use the toilet and shower before entering the pool
* Do not use the spa pool if you have had diarrhea in the last 14 days

According to HPA, in-home spa pools are becoming more commonplace in Great Britain with more than 14,000 spas installed in homes each year.

For more information and resources regarding HPA’s new guidelines, please go to:
http://www.hpa.org.uk/publications/2006/spa_pools/default.htm

In The News-is a bi-weekly, online service from the Water Quality & Health Council. The publication is updated every other Friday and can be viewed by logging onto www.waterandhealth.org. To receive the publication via e-mail, please click here and enter your e-mail address to join our mailing list.

Subscribe to receive the weekly "Water Quality & Health Council Perspectives"