Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – October 23rd, 2006

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

October 23, 2006

Landmark EPA Groundwater Pathogen Rule Issued

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed a new rule into law this month that will require drinking water systems using groundwater sources to monitor for indicator organisms of pathogen viruses and bacteria from fecal contamination. Slated for implementation in December 2009, the rule will take a risk-based approach, requiring groundwater utilities to conduct routine, state-sanctioned sanitary surveys to identify problem areas in their operations. Systems demonstrating the presence of potentially harmful viruses or microbial contaminants will be required by law to implement source water monitoring practices and treatment procedures.

The rule takes a risk-based approach to identify groundwater systems that are at high risk for contamination by fecal matter, and it identifies when corrective action, including disinfection, must be taken. According to EPA, most groundwater systems are not contaminated, making the prescribed monitoring and treatment regimes applicable to only high-risk systems.

The new rule is intended to target harmful viruses including rotavirus, echoviruses, and noroviruses as well as the microbial contaminants E. coli, Salmonella and Shigella. Nearly 147,000 water utilities across the nation will be affected by the new rule, impacting approximately 100 million people.

According to EPA, the new rule will prevent about 42,000 cases of illness from rotavirus and echoviruses each year and provide a significant reduction in illnesses from other viruses and bacteria.

The Groundwater Rule was originally developed in 1987. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1986, all groundwater systems were required to disinfect their drinking water. However, utilities have had problems with the rule, claiming it was too complex and costly to implement.

For a full reading of the new EPA groundwater rule, Please go to:

Update: Manure Likely Source of Spinach E. Coli Infections

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigators have reported that recent testing shows a genetic match between and the E. coli strain isolated from patients recently stricken with the organic spinach-related infection and an E. coli O157:H7 strain found in cow manure from a California cattle ranch near spinach fields. According to investigators, their probe of the E. coli outbreak found in 26 states points to one contaminated lot of spinach from four fields located in California’s Monterey and San Benito Counties.

The outbreak that was first reported in mid-September sickened 199 people and killed three.

FDA investigators report the farm where matching manure was found did not fully follow voluntary guidelines that prevent contamination of leafy greens.

Federal and state investigators point out they still don’t know how the feces contaminated the spinach. They report that there are a number of ways for contamination to occur, including manure contamination of agricultural runoff and irrigation water or poor farm-worker hygiene that leads to a transfer of manure to spinach.

One additional theory being investigated is that fences surrounding the cattle ranch have been penetrated by wild pigs, leading investigators to consider whether the pigs might have spread the bacteria from the cattle pasture to the spinach field.

For an updated informational document on the spinach/E. coli outbreak from the FDA, please go to:

EPA’s New Strategic Plan Made Public

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has submitted its Strategic Plan, 2006 – 2011 to the U.S. Congress. The plan serves as a road map, establishing annual goals for the agency’s advancement, helping EPA measure how far the agency has advanced in achieving its goals and highlighting where adjustment is needed to achieve better results.

Submitted September 29 as required under the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, the revised Strategic Plan includes the five original goals that were approved for the 2003-2008 plan, narrowing the focus on more measurable environmental results where possible, according to EPA.

The five goals are:

* Clean Air and Global Climate Change
* Clean and Safe Water
* Land Preservation and Restoration
* Healthy Communities and Ecosystems
* Compliance and Environmental Stewardship.

Included in the plan are 2011 strategic targets for safe drinking water that includes the overall goal of ensuring that 90 percent of community water systems will provide drinking water that meets all applicable health-based drinking water standards. The plan also targets the improved health of recreational water, committing to maintain a maximum average of two waterborne disease outbreaks attributable to swimming or other recreational activities in coastal and Great Lakes waters.

For a copy of the EPA’s Strategic Plan 2006-2011, please go to:

Global Resurgence of Polio Risk Grows

According to a report by public health experts working for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), more than 250,000 people could contract polio each year if Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan fail to eradicate the crippling virus.

The four nations were identified due to their failure to ensure that children receive an inexpensive oral vaccine that stops the spread of the virus. Last year, fewer than 2,000 people contracted the disease as a result of two billion children being immunized in house-to-house vaccination programs. The figure was as high as 350,000 per year in 1988, when the eradication drive started. Public health experts warn, however, that the lack of full eradication coupled with the existing threat of polio’s spread, could lead to a resurgence of the disease.

Highlighted in the report was the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO), U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Rotary International and CDC have officially missed their set goal of halting the spread of polio by the end of 2005. This was attributed to the global health community’s inability to eliminate the disease in countries that have never stopped its transmission.

WHO reports the joint eradication initiative will not reestablish its target goals, but will continue efforts toward meeting the eradication objective originally set for 2005.

For more information on the Global Polio Eradiation Initiative, please go to:

In The News-is a bi-weekly, online service from the Water Quality & Health Council. The publication is updated every other Friday and can be viewed by logging onto

Subscribe to receive the weekly "Water Quality & Health Council Perspectives"