Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – May 24th, 2002

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

May 24, 2002

Vaccine Shortage Puts Adults at Risk Too

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there currently are shortages and delays in the distribution of many of the recommended childhood vaccines. The situation varies by location and health care provider. While most Americans think vaccines are only for children, the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine (ACP-ASIM) is leading a campaign to educate doctors about adult immunizations. Approximately 40,000 adults die each year from illnesses that could have been prevented with proper vaccination (comparatively, about 100 children die each year from diseases that can be prevented by vaccines). The current shortage in vaccine supply puts the adult population at an even greater risk. Adults needing the tetanus-diptheria booster (which they should get every ten years) are forced to wait until year’s end. Adults still vulnerable to chicken pox and measles likely will have to wait until mid-summer for that vaccine. Vaccine shortages are a result of production errors and the abandonment of production by some manufacturers. These factors coupled with an already under-vaccinated America are cause for concern, according to the CDC and the ACP-ASIM. The CDC plans to release new vaccination recommendations and guidelines in the near future.

To learn more about these issues, visit or

Water Security Plans Solidifying

On Capitol Hill, House and Senate conferees are working to reach an agreement on H.R. 3448, the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Response Act of 2001. The bill, which aims to strengthen bioterrorism coordination, prevention and response efforts, faces several hurdles. Most notably, debate has focused on access to highly sensitive drinking water utility vulnerability assessments. The current version of the bill, which passed overwhelmingly in the House late last year, would require drinking water systems serving more than 3,300 persons to conduct “vulnerability assessments,” but does not require these documents to be submitted to EPA. This approach would allow EPA to verify the work has been performed, but guarantees that sensitive security information will not be subject to Freedom of Information Act disclosures. Such disclosures could potentially provide a roadmap for terrorists seeking to contaminate or disrupt public water systems.

To view the content of the bill and monitor its status, visit and search for H.R. 3448

EPA Proposes Enhanced Approach to Cleaning Up the Nation’s Waters

Embracing an oft-debated environmental strategy, the EPA recently proposed a pollution-credits trading system to introduce a tangible financial incentive to curb pollution in our nation’s waterways. The EPA believes this policy could save the public hundreds of millions of dollars by advancing more effective, efficient partnerships to clean up and protect watersheds. The policy encourages incentives to maintain high water quality where it exists as well as to restore impaired waters. The voluntary program would assign pollution quotas for each company that discharges in the water, and any polluter that does not use all its credits could sell the remainder to other companies that plan to exceed the designated pollution levels. The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups have requested that the EPA jettison this plan if it cannot ensure an improvement in water quality. The plan will be open for comment until early July. The final policy will be released later this summer.

For more information and a copy of the proposed policy, visit

Smallpox Destruction Delayed

This week, the World Health Organization (WHO) postponed the scheduled destruction of the world’s last remaining stocks of the smallpox virus to allow scientists more time to research the disease. As worries over bioterrorism have increased, WHO officials are attempting to give researchers more time to develop better vaccines and treatments should terrorists somehow unleash the virus. Two years ago, the WHO marked 2002 as the deadline for the worldwide destruction of the virus, hoping that the disease, successfully eradicated in 1977, would be permanently eliminated.

To read the WHO’s smallpox policies, visit

Arsenic Compliance for Small Water Systems Eased

Due to financial constraints, many small drinking water systems are reporting that they would not be able to meet the 2006 deadline set by the EPA for lowering arsenic levels. Today, an estimated 4,100 of 78,000 water systems carry water with arsenic levels above 10 ppb. To expedite the national transition to 10 ppb, Congress is considering an increase to the $1 billion annual federal loan program for small systems. After a lengthy debate last year, the Bush Administration agreed to mandate a 10 parts-per-billion (ppb) arsenic standard for drinking water instead of maintaining the current 50 ppb level. Following a split expert panel investigation, the plan now allows smaller water systems serving fewer than 3,300 people to delay its compliance to the new standard until 2015.

To learn more about the arsenic standard, visit

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