Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – May 27, 2005

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

May 27, 2005

Changing Avian Flu Spurs WHO Warning

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a report raising concerns that the molecular and disease pattern of the H5N1, the virus responsible for Avian flu, may be growing more adept at infecting humans. According to WHO this change in the virus would increase the likelihood that the pandemic influenza may be imminent. In addition, the report found that some strains of the H5N1 might be developing resistance to oseltamivir, one of only two drugs known to work against H5N1.

The WHO report, Strengthening Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response, was released last week at the annual World Health Assembly, a weeklong international public health meeting held in Geneva.

According to the report, Avian flu is endemic in parts of Asia, particularly affecting farming populations, who are now the subject of an increased public health outreach effort. However, WHO cautions that vaccines may not be as effective as originally thought, due to changes in the virus that have occurred since the vaccine stock was created.

New Avian flu developments including the following recent news items:

* Indonesia has reported a positive serum sample from a poultry worker in South Sulawesi province
* H5N1contaminated eggs were confiscated by Chinese authorities hidden in the carry-on luggage of two airline passengers from Vietnam
* Joint efforts by Thailand and Hong Kong to create an Asian bank of influenza vaccine and antiviral drugs.

To read the draft WHO report, “Strengthening Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response” please go to: ( PDF)
EPA Reports Majority of U.S. Water Systems Making the Grade

Ninety percent of the 272 million people served by 53,000 community water systems across the country received water that met health-based drinking water standards in fiscal year 2004, according to information contained in the Safe Drinking Water Information System report recently released by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

One of EPA’s strategic goals is that by 2008 ninety-five percent of the population served by community water systems will receive drinking water that meets all applicable health-based standards. To be in compliance, a water system cannot exceed the maximum allowable levels for contaminants such as nitrates. In addition, the system must meet treatment technique requirements ensuring protection against microbial pathogens including Giardia.

The statistics in the summary are based on yearly data from the Safe Drinking Water Information System, the EPA’s official record of inventory, violation and enforcement data for public water systems. The report notes that EPA is aware of inaccuracies and underreporting of some data in this system, and is working with the states to address these problems.

To read the Summaries of Drinking Water and Ground Water Statistics, please go to:
EPA Rejects Proposed Blending Policy

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that it will not finalize the sewage blending policy as proposed in November 2003. The agency stated their decision was based on a review of all of the public comments and congressional hearings that had taken place on the issue.

In November 2003, the agency proposed a policy that addressed National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) requirements for municipal wastewater treatment during wet weather conditions. The policy has been considered a priority due to current use of inconsistent interpretations of regulations in EPA regions. After hearing more than 98,000 public comments, the EPA is assessing alternative options for addressing pollutant discharges during periods of high rainfall or snowmelt.

Sewage treatment facilities often experience significantly higher flows due to either the design of the system or the condition of the pipes. To cope with high flows during storm events, some sewage treatment facilities provide primary treatment for all flows coming into the facility and biological treatment (also called secondary treatment) for flows up to the capacity of the biological treatment units. When the flows into the facility exceed the capacity of the biological treatment units, excess flows are diverted around the biological units and then recombined or “blended” with the flows that have been treated by the biological units.

For more information from the EPA about the blending issue, please go to:

NAS Report May Support Regulation of Water Distribution Systems

A new National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report shows that although there has been a decreasing number of waterborne illnesses reported since 1982, an increasing percentage of those illnesses are linked to distribution system issues. Several of the outbreaks were tied to improperly maintained and operated distribution system storage facilities. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has requested the NAS report as part of its review process of the Total Coliform Rule. The NAS panel reviewed a series of nine EPA white papers as part of their overall evaluation of water quality problems linked to water distribution systems.

Aging distribution systems were cited as a major contributing factor in water quality deterioration in distribution systems, according to the report. However, findings also note the issue is exacerbated by a U.S. population with an increasing susceptibility to infection and disease due to aging, an increase in immune deficiency diseases and the heightened use of immunosuppressive therapy.

The report is the first of two from an NAS panel, and is focused both on relevant trends in the deterioration of distribution system water quality and where priorities for addressing the issue should occur. Top priorities indicated in the report include cross connection and backflow, contamination during installation and rehabilitation and repair of water mains and appurtenances.

The second report is slated to be released in late 2006 and will evaluate different approaches for tackling public health risks posed. Additionally, the second NAS report will identify and evaluate the effectiveness of existing codes and regulations and attempt to hatch actions and policies that can reduce public health risks.

To read the first NAS report, “Public Water Supply Distribute Systems: Assessing and Reducing Risks”, please go to:

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