Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – May 8th, 2006

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

May 8, 2006

New York City Seeks to Challenge EPA’s New Surface Water Treatment Rule

New York City has asked to join a lawsuit filed by the city of Portland, Oregon challenging an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule aimed at controlling the parasite Cryptosporidium in drinking water. The motion was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit, asking it to intervene in a lawsuit filed by the city of Portland.

Portland officials filed suit in February claiming that the city’s drinking water is among the purest in the U.S. and stating that Cryptosporidium is rarely detected. The suit further claims that the steps required by the Long-Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule (LT2 Rule) are unnecessary and would be prohibitively expensive.

Exposure to the parasite Cryptosporidium can cause the diarrheal disease Cryptosporidiosis, a serious illness for young children and those with compromised immune systems.

The EPA originally required water utilities that use unfiltered water to either treat the water with disinfectants that control Cryptosporidium, filter it or activate risk mitigation plans. However in January 2006, the EPA issued the final LT2 Rule that dropped the mitigation option from its plan. As a result, the new rule will require New York City to construct a cover for one of its drinking water sources at an estimated cost of $800 million.

The city of New York is currently waiting for notice from the court on whether they will be cleared to join Oregon in the lawsuit.

To read about EPA drinking water rulemaking, please visit:

USGS Report Shows Groundwater Contaminants Present, Health Impact Limited

According to a new report released by the U.S Geological Survey (USGS), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are widely found in U.S. aquifers used as drinking water sources, however reported levels are too low to constitute a health concern. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses USGS groundwater contaminant research in the development of its Contaminant Candidate List, which prioritizes unregulated contaminants for regulation, health advisories and drinking water monitoring programs.

VOC’s are organic chemicals that do not degrade easily, have a high vapor pressure relative to their water solubility and can migrate into groundwater. They are found in association with products such as plastics, adhesives, paints, gasoline, fumigants, refrigerants, and dry-cleaning fluids. VOCs can also change the taste and odor of drinking water and have the potential for toxicity and carcinogenicity.

To date, EPA regulates 29 VOCs in drinking water.

For the study, USGS looked for 55 VOCs in about 4,000 wells and 98 aquifers. VOCs were detected in 90 of the 98 aquifer studied, however many were at extremely low concentrations of less than one part per billion. The most commonly detected VOCs are chloroform, perchloroethene (PCE), methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), trichloroethene (TCE) and toluene.

A separate part of the VOC study focused on drinking water wells, including more than 2,400 private wells and 1,100 public wells. Since private wells are individually owned, they are not subject to EPA regulations. The study’s findings show one or more VOCs were detected in about 14 percent of domestic wells and 26 percent of public wells. However, only 1 percent of domestic well samples and 2 percent of public well samples had concentrations of potential human health concern.

To read more about the USGS study, please go to:

To read more about private well maintenance and disinfection from the Water Quality & Health Council, please see our September 2005 newsletter piece at:
EPA, Water Community Create Utility Management Coalition

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and six water and wastewater utility organizations have joined in an agreement to promote more effective water utility management with the goal of ensuring the long-term viability of our nation’s water systems. According to EPA, the coalition will focus on improved water and wastewater utility performance through education, management tools and performance measures.

The partnership was initiated at an EPA Office of Wastewater Management working session in May 2005 to explore opportunities to enhance collaboration by water and wastewater utilities in advancing asset management.

The coalition’s May 2nd Statement of Intent outlines a yearlong program developing methods to gauge utility effectiveness and shape a strategy to promote sustainable management practices for the U.S. water community. Objectives of the partnership include:

* strengthening partnerships and communications between members of the water and wastewater communities;

* improving utility performance through the application of management tools and performance measurement; and

* enhancing utility decision-making through public awareness efforts

Member organizations of the partnership include the Water Environment Federation, National Association of Clean Water Agencies, American Water Works Association, Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, American Public Works Association and National Association of Water Companies.

To read more about the coalition’s 2005 meeting, please go to:
WHO Report: Water Disinfection Key to Limiting Avian Flu Transmissions

According to a report recently released by the World Health Organization (WHO), the risk of avian flu (H5N1) spreading via public drinking water and sewage systems is minimized, if not eliminated, through basic disinfection practices. The document, Review of Latest Available Evidence on Risks to Human Health through Potential Transmission of Avian Influenza (H5N1) Through Water and Sewage, examines the routes of entry of the avian influenza H5N1 virus into water and sewage, the persistence of the virus in the environment, and its possible routes of transmission to humans through water and sewage. The risk associated with selected exposure scenarios is examined and prevention and control measures, including chlorination and water boiling, are suggested.

Based on case studies and research reviews, the WHO outlines four (4) potential scenarios for environmental exposure to H5N1. They are:

* Consumption of virus-contaminated drinking water
* Recreational use of contaminated water
* Exposure to contaminated sewage or surface water
* Occupational exposure to infected animals or contaminated excrement

The report concludes that water supplies receiving treatment as recommended in the WHO Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality are considered unlikely to pose infection risk, even if infected waterfowl are present in source waters.

Cited in the study is the fact that influenza viruses are susceptible to disinfectants due to their structures. The introduction of chlorination or alternative disinfectant residuals into water distribution systems by authorities is considered necessary to managing risk. Additionally, WHO advises that in individual households where water safety is questionable, drinking water should undergo home chlorination (addition of bleach) or boiling to deactivate the virus.

For a full reading of the WHO study, please go to:

For more information from the Water Quality & Health Council on managing flu risk and home chlorination guidelines, please go to:

To read more about the WHO Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality, please go to:

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