Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – October 14th, 2004

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

October 15 , 2004

Investigation Reveals Misrepresented Drinking Water Lead Levels Across U.S.

According to a recent article the Washington Post, misleading test results for lead in public drinking water have been reported in cities across the country and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is not enforcing lead reduction requirements. Using EPA data, The Post identified 274 public utilities, serving a total of 11.5 million people nationally, that have reported unsafe lead levels since 2000.

Washington DC, Boston and Detroit are among the cities cited in the article for manipulating lead contamination data. Reported findings show that the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) was aware in the summer of 2001 that portions of the local drinking water supply contained unsafe lead levels, but withheld six key test results to avoid public scrutiny. In tests over the next two years, WASA removed half of the homes that had previously tested high for lead from data gathering and actively avoided homes considered to be at high-risk for lead contamination. In Boston and Detroit, records show that water utilities failed to test the high-risk homes they were required to check.

Lead exposures can cause serious health and medical problems, including impaired mental development in children and brain and kidney damage in adults. While experts agree that no amount of lead in drinking water is acceptable, disputes exist over the amount of lead-contaminated water that would have to be consumed before permanent health damage is done.

On October 5th Senators James Jeffords (I-VT) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) called on the EPA’s inspector general to improve enforcement of EPA standards for lead and copper levels in the drinking water supply.

For a full reading of the Washington Post article, please go to:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7094-2004Oct4.html
Rise in Staph Infections Causes Concern

Infectious disease experts, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), are reporting a rise in cases of staph infections across the nation. Normally seen in hospital patients and the chronically ill, new strains of drug-resistant “super bug” staph infections are being found in typically healthy people, children and athletes.

Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium traditionally treated successfully by standard antibiotics, is now being seen in forms resistant to the entire penicillin family. Surprising to members of the medical community is the growing number of reported cases of life-threatening heart infections, fatal pneumonia and flesh-eating bacteria related to staph. The CDC has reported infection clusters from native Alaskans to Pacific Islanders in Hawaii. Several of the CDC reported cases involve sports groups, including a fencing team in Colorado, college football players in Pennsylvania and Los Angeles and high school wrestlers in Indiana.

Factors that contribute to staph infection include the sharing of personal hygiene items, such as towels and soap, as well as the overuse of antibiotics, which tend to kill weaker bacteria while helping stronger ones develop resistant qualities.

EPA Reports on Water Security Progress

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) top water official has reported “good news” to a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives on agency efforts to improve security on nationwide water and wastewater systems. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce heard testimony on September 30th from Acting Assistant Administrator for Water, Benjamin Grumble on the EPA’s nationwide improvements on security of water utilities and wastewater systems.

Grumble credited administrators of U.S. water systems for a “remarkable” response to the 2002 congressional mandate to submit vulnerability assessments, adopt security measures and certify completion of updated emergency response plans (ERPs). Based on responses from water systems across the county, Grumbles reported that vulnerability assessments serving a collective 230 million people have been completed.

The EPA reports it will devote additional resources to public water and wastewater security to identify the best technologies and practices, strengthen partnerships and information-sharing capabilities, and provide ERP training. It was also reported that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will expand its secure counter terrorism communications network to include the energy and water infrastructure sectors.

For a copy of Benjamin Grumble’s September 30th testimony, please go to:
http://www.awwa.org/Advocacy/govtaff/grumbles.pdf ( PDF)

Global Forum Convenes on Food Safety

Faced with an increasing global burden of foodborne disease, more than 300 food safety regulators from 100 countries gathered this week for the 2nd Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators. The Forum brought together regulators from the global health, agriculture and trade sectors in an effort to develop a common understanding on how to strengthen food safety systems that better address increasingly complex foodborne threats to public health and food supplies. Each year, unsafe food is responsible for illness in at least 2 billion people worldwide.

Forum discussions focused on defining the global responsibilities and tasks of groups involved in food safety and the role of the food industry and trade organizations in applying food quality and safety assurance systems.

Forum organizers confirm that the majority of the foodborne disease burden is linked to single cases occurring throughout the world, and not the large-scale outbreaks that receive media attention. Food safety experts say that over 700,000 people die annually in Asia alone due to individual cases of foodborne and waterborne disease. Sources of the foodborne disease threats include improper handling and storage, poor preparation and cooking practices, and health conditions at production facilities.

For more information on 2nd Global Forum of Food Safety Regulators, please go to:
http://www.foodsafetyforum.org/global2/index_en.asp

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