Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – September 26th, 2003

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

September 26, 2003

Research Finds Ridding Water of Drugs Could Be Easy Fix

Researchers at the University of Missouri-Rolla have found removing antibiotic drugs and other medicines from drinking water supplies could be easier than it first appears. It is likely that water treatment plant operators can cut trace levels of pharmaceuticals that get through sewage treatment systems by adjusting amounts of activated charcoal and chlorine now used to purify water. Water treatment plant operators might not have to worry about needing new, expensive technology to rid water of drugs if levels of such substances are regulated in the future. Researchers and a group of students have been using $1 million worth of testing equipment at a UMR laboratory to find ways of removing sulfa antibiotics and endocrine disruptors from drinking water by using traditional water treatment methods.

Finding pharmaceuticals in surface water and groundwater started becoming a health and environmental concern in the late 1990s when water-testing methods became sophisticated enough to detect the drugs. The drugs enter the sewer system through several sources, including poultry and beef farms. Researchers now are trying to determine what effect, if any, pharmaceuticals have in water supplies.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is also studying whether to develop formal recommendations for what to do with old medicines. The UMR research indicates that if a little activated charcoal removes small amounts of drugs, increasing the amount of charcoal can remove up to 90 percent of the traces of drugs. Adjusting chlorination systems also seems to work, said environmental engineering professor Craig Adams, who directs UMR’s Environmental Research Center.

For more information on the research contact Dr. Craig Adams through the following means:

Environmental Research Center
221 Civil Engineering
1870 Miner Circle
Rolla, MO 65409
Phone: 573.341.6908

HHS, Public Health Partners Unveil New Campaign to Promote Awareness of Proper Antibiotic Use

The Department of Health and Human Services and a consortium of national health organizations today urged consumers to be cautious about their use of antibiotics as the cold and flu season approaches. Officials stressed that antibiotics are ineffective treatment for viruses, such as those that cause colds and flu, and that inappropriate antibiotic use — particularly among children — is contributing to an alarming growth of global antibiotic resistance.

“Antibiotics show amazing results when used to treat bacterial infections, but they won’t help at all against the common cold or flu,” Surgeon General Richard Carmona said. “What’s worse, if people take antibiotics when they don’t need them, it can make these important drugs less effective in the future. This is part of health literacy and closing the gap between what health care professionals know and what Americans understand.”

The message is part of a new national campaign unveiled by HHS’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and major national health organizations.

“Antibiotics are powerful drugs. In fact, sometimes we imagine they are wonder drugs that can treat any infections,” said CDC Director Julie Gerberding, M.D. “But the truth is antibiotics only work against bacteria, not the viruses that cause colds and flu,” she added. “It’s so important to get smart about antibiotic use and work with your doctor to get the right remedy during this cold and flu season.”

More information about this campaign and antibiotic resistance is available at:

Hurricane Isabel Leaves East Coast Recovering

Federal health officials warned people in Hurricane Isabel’s wake must take special precautions to ensure they’re eating safe food and drinking safe water. The Food and Drug Administration’s advised the following:

* Refrigerated food shouldn’t go above 40 degree Fahrenheit. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for about 48 hours – 24 hours if half full – if the door remains closed. Buy dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator as cold as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic-foot full freezer for two days.
* Don’t eat food that came into contact with floodwater, including food stored in containers with screw caps, snap lids or that were home-canned. Discard wooden cutting boards, plastic utensils, baby bottle nipples and pacifiers that came into contact with floodwaters, as they can’t be completely disinfected. Wash metal or ceramic dishes and any undamaged, commercially canned foods, removing the cans’ labels – and then sanitize dishes and cans in a solution consisting of a quarter-cup bleach per gallon of water.

Also, areas infested with West Nile virus could see an increase in the mosquito-borne illness because of flooding. Drain standing water wherever possible, wear long pants and long sleeves, and use a bug repellant containing DEET. More information on hurricane preparedness is available at:

Boil Water Alerts Issued As a Result of Hurricane Isabel

The loss of electrical power and water to millions of people along the East Coast during last week’s Hurricane Isabel forced some water utilities to issue boil-water orders. In northern Virginia alone, about 1.2 million people served by the Fairfax County Water Authority (FCWA) were without reliable drinking water for about a day, with customers asked to boil their water for at least one minute after power failures at the utility’s four water treatment plants left the supply’s safety suspect.

Water supplies were also critically low for about 80,000 people in Maryland’s Anne Arundel County after power was knocked out at a water treatment plant there. The Maryland Department of the Environment recommended that people with flooded wells use bottled water or another safe source as a precautionary measure against contamination.

In Pennsylvania, some people reportedly had to flush their toilets with pond water, and in North Carolina, residents of 26 counties were urged to boil their water or use alternative sources of water. Many restaurants throughout the region closed because of boil-water advisories.

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