Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – May 9th, 2003

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

May 9, 2003

SARS Survival on Common Surfaces Tested

Studies released from the World Health Organization (WHO) on May 5th may help solve one of the mysteries of the SARS virus: how it spreads without direct exposure to infected individuals. WHO labs in Hong Kong, Japan and Germany examined how long the virus can survive on common surfaces. The studies found that it can survive after drying on plastic surfaces for up to 48 hours. Tests in Hong Kong determined that the virus could survive in feces for at least two days and in diarrhea for 4 days. However, the primary mode of transmission remains through droplets that spray out when an infected person sneezes or coughs. Scientists in Japan who examined how temperature affects the virus noticed that it died at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit and above, started to deteriorate at 40 degrees, but seemed to remain viable indefinitely when temperatures dropped to 32 degrees. German scientists found that a common detergent failed to kill the virus, indicating that some efforts to sterilize contaminated areas may be ineffective. At the same time, the WHO announced this past weekend that SARS loses infectivity after exposure to different commonly used disinfectants, such as chlorine bleach. The studies underscore the need for frequent hand washing, proper cleaning and good disinfection control in the hospitals handling SARS cases. As of May 5, a total of 6,583 SARS cases and 461 deaths have been reported in 27 countries.

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Iraqi Water Supplies in Danger, Confirmed Cholera Cases Reported

According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), rapidly dwindling supplies of chlorine gas in southern Iraq could soon lead to unsanitary water supplies. Chlorine gas is used to treat the water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers before it is distributed to households. Untreated water could leave millions of people, especially children, vulnerable to diarrhea, cholera and typhoid, which could be deadly. On Wednesday, the WHO reported at least 11 confirmed cases of cholera in Iraq, adding that a cholera outbreak affecting hundreds is likely to occur. Authorities are increasing the amount of chlorine gas shipped in from Kuwait and asking coalition forces to speed up chlorine deliveries, but the cities of Nasriyah, Basra, Zubair and Safwan could run out of chlorine by mid-May, according to UNICEF.

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EPA Not Discussing Perchlorate Pollution

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Bush administration banned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from publicly discussing perchlorate pollution. According to the report, the gag order is a result of two new studies, one by the EPA and the other by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, that show high levels of the chemical may be contaminating the nation’s lettuce supply. EPA scientists and regulators are not allowed to speak about perchlorate until the completion of a National Academy of Sciences review, which could take an additional six to 18 months. Some scientists familiar with the studies say that both are limited in scope and are not conclusive about perchlorate in the nation’s food supply.

In related news, earlier in April, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) proposed a new bill that would require retroactive reporting for perchlorate under the Clean Water Act. The new bill, S.820, would require facilities that store or have stored more than 375 pounds of perchlorate over the course of a calendar year since January 1, 1950 to report to the EPA and appropriate state water pollution control agency the volume of perchlorate stored each calendar year, how the chemical was stored and provide a copy of every document relating to monitoring for potential discharges. The bill would also require anyone who discharges perchlorate into the water to file a report with the EPA and appropriate state water pollution control agency for public review. Should the bill be enacted, these reports must be filed by January 1, 2005.

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More Water Systems Needed for Arsenic Treatment Demonstration Program

The EPA is calling for more small water systems (serving 10,000 or fewer) to volunteer to participate in the second round of its arsenic treatment demonstration program. The program intends to identify and evaluate the ability of commercial technologies and engineering as well as other approaches to cost effectively meet the new limits on arsenic concentrations in drinking water in small water systems. The new 10-micrograms/L standard will take effect in 2006. The EPA will purchase all necessary equipment and engineering services through an independent contractor and pay for all installation costs and supplies for the test sites. Additionally, EPA scientists and contractors will collect data and samples. Demonstrations will be limited to one treatment site, and upon completion of the demonstration the systems can decide whether to keep or remove the technology. Small water systems have until July 15, 2003 to submit applications to participate in this program. The EPA will request new proposals from treatment technology vendors later this year.

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