Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – November 7th, 2003

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

November 7, 2003

California Wildfires Force Residents to Boil Water

Burning relentlessly over hundreds of square miles, the California wildfires consumed homes around San Diego and San Bernardino and caused the air quality to deteriorate, leading public health officials to urge residents in certain areas of Southern California to stay indoors.

The fires forced widespread school and road closures, disrupted air travel, and deprived some areas of electricity. Hospital emergency rooms reported treating a surge in patients complaining of respiratory problems.

In San Bernardino and San Diego Counties, county officials urged residents in areas affected by the fires to boil drinking water that may be contaminated by smoke and debris and recommended all tap water used for drinking or cooking should be boiled rapidly for at least one minute prior to use.

New Study Shows Little Effect on Men’s Reproductive Health from Chemicals in Drinking Water

The California Department of Health Services (CDHS) recently completed a study that examined the relationship between semen quality and chemicals in drinking water. In the study, researchers looked at the amount of trihalomethanes (THMs) in drinking water in relation to the quality of semen, measured by count, concentration, movement and shape of sperm. THMs are a group of chemicals created unintentionally when drinking water is chlorinated to protect against disease-causing microorganisms.

The study’s findings include:

* THM levels in home tap water were not associated with any negative effects on sperm count, concentration, or number of abnormalities.
* Men with the highest THM exposure (measured as THM level in tap water × number of glasses of tap water consumed per day) had a slightly greater number of abnormally shaped sperm by one method of analysis. By a second method of analysis, the measured decrease was not statistically significant.
* The researchers found no relationship between THM exposure and other measures of semen quality.

A CDHS fact sheet on the study concludes, “CDHS does not believe that the very small changes we saw are harmful or will lower men’s ability to have children.” Because this is the first study of TTHMs and semen quality that has been conducted, the study’s authors said further research is needed.

For more information about the Men’s Reproductive Health Study, visit

or contact: California Department of Health Services Environmental Health Investigations Branch

1515 Clay St., Suite 1700
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 622-4500

Poor Drinking Water Seen as Source of Typhoid Outbreak in Tajikistan Capital

A recent typhoid outbreak in the Tajikistan capital, Dushanbe – one of the largest outbreaks to strike the country in years – is now under control, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) official. Experts believe the typhoid crisis started in mid-September when source water from the Varzob River, which supplies half of the city’s population, was not treated with chlorine before it entered the municipal system.

Since the beginning of the outbreak in early October, more than 760 people have been hospitalized with typhoid symptoms and one person has died.

“There is actually no filtration of the water taking place,” said Djahon Ziyaev, who chairs a special commission under the auspices of the Ministry of Nature Protection that is investigating the typhoid outbreak. A complicating factor is that the city’s water system is interconnected, so that clean water from groundwater sources is mixed together with contaminated water.

A $17 million World Bank project is designed to help untangle and update Dushanbe’s drinking water supply network. Roughly $70 million will be needed to fully improve the system, authorities say.

For more information, please visit:

Leavitt Confirmed as EPA Administrator

On October 28, the Senate confirmed Utah Governor Mike Leavitt as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The vote, 88-8, did not reflect the intense efforts by some Democrats to hold up the nomination over their disagreement with the Bush Administration’s environmental policies.

In a White House statement, President Bush said he and Leavitt will work closely on “initiatives to make our air and water cleaner, protect the land, and use technology to improve our environment while our economy grows and creates jobs.”

Leavitt, who has been governor for the past 11 years, has a reputation for seeking common ground on environmental issues among people with divergent views. According to the Los Angeles Times, Leavitt shares President Bush’s preference for coaxing businesses to become partners in achieving pollution reduction objectives, rather than forcing them to comply with strict regulations.

Leavitt will be sworn in on November 6, a day after resigning as governor. He has promised to promote “a higher and more meaningful level of cooperation and the application of new technologies” to protect the nation’s environment.

For more information, please visit

Renters May Start Paying Water Bills

As part of its efforts to promote water conservation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is seeking a rule change that would encourage landlords to charge tenants for water usage. More than 2 million renters, including many low income and fixed income tenants, already pay a separate bill for their water. The EPA believes the remaining tenants of the nation’s roughly 35 million rental units will start to think twice about taking long showers if they realize they are paying a separate water bill.

Factors that have contributed to the run-up in water prices include: increased demand due to population and industry growth and “severe to extreme” drought conditions in parts of the Pacific Northwest, the Plains and Southwest.

Currently, most landlords do not charge for individual water usage. To charge their tenants, landlords have to adhere to many of the same guidelines as utilities, including hiring experts and doing water-quality testing. Property owners have argued that these measures are burdensome.

The EPA is now considering amending the testing and monitoring guidelines to encourage property owners to install meters that track usage by individual apartments. “Helping to make people more aware of how much water they are using and the cost is one of the steps to produce environmental benefits,” G. Tracy Mehan III, the EPA’s assistant administrator for water, told The Wall Street Journal on October 23. According to the newspaper, the EPA expects to make a final decision on the policy change early next year.

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