Drinking Water & Health Quarterly Summer 2004 – Volume 10, Issue 2

Reducing Lead Levels in Washington, D.C. Drinking Water

A Progress Update

Water Supply in the Nation’s Capital: A Triumvirate of Bureaucracy

To supply drinking water to the Washington, D.C. region, the Army Corps of Engineers manages the treatment of Potomac River water at the Washington Aqueduct treatment plant. Treated water is then distributed to residents by the Washington, D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA). The EPA Region III office, located in Philadelphia, regulates the process. Both WASA and the EPA were widely criticized for not notifying the public of the lead problem earlier and for taking contradictory and confusing actions once it was made public. Jerry Johnson, general manager of WASA has said that although his organization’s relationship with the Corps of Engineers has worked well, it may be time to revisit the relationship.i

In February 2004, residents of the Washington, D.C. area learned that high levels of lead were detected in portions of their drinking water supply. Tap water flowing into thousands of homes in the nation’s capital was found to contain lead in excess of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “action level” of 15 parts per billion (ppb). Water entering 157 homes had lead levels higher than 300 ppb. Two readings (24,000 and 48,000 ppb) were so elevated that water quality experts suggested residents might be able to taste the lead in their water. Public and government outrage over the threat of unhealthful drinking water prompted a congressional investigation, ultimately leading to a re-examination of federal water testing and public notification procedures.

Since this potentially serious public health situation came to light in early 2004, steps have been taken at the local and federal levels to understand, cope with, and resolve the problem of lead in the drinking water in the Washington, D.C. area. Water experts speculate that Washington, D.C. probably is not unique in its lead woes, and that other localities will benefit from its difficult experience.

A Test of EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule

In 1991, EPA issued a Lead-Copper Rule (LCR), designed to reduce the presence of those two metals in drinking water. According to the rule, if more than 10 percent of taps sampled exceeds the action levels for one of the metals, steps must be taken to reduce those levels and the public must be informed. High lead levels, traced to lead pipes, had been found in Washington, D.C. water as early as the late 1980s, before the rule appeared. At that time the problem was resolved by adjusting the pH of the water with lime, preventing lead leaching of pipes. But lead returned in late 2002. In response, the Washington, D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) began replacing lead service lines in 2002 at the rate of seven percent per year, as dictated by the LCR. Informing the public adequately, however, was a different matter. Although WASA mailed brochures to affected homes in October 2003 (with a notice about high lead levels in small print on page three, a city official later complained), the public at large was not notified until media reports caused an outcry around March 2004. Later in the spring, during a federal investigation, WASA and EPA officials both acknowledged that they could have done a better job of communicating with the public.

A Case of Warring EPA Rules?

In attempting to determine the cause of the most recent episode of elevated lead levels, several water corrosion experts point to a change in water treatment by the Washington Aqueduct. To comply with a 1998 EPA Disinfection By-Products Rule (DBR), in November, 2000, the Aqueduct began adding ammonia to chlorine to form chloramines. Chloramines are disinfectants that may be used-instead of chlorine alone-to reduce levels of chlorinated disinfection byproducts in drinking water. Chlorinated disinfection byproducts are chemical compounds of potential public health concern resulting from the combination of chlorine and natural organic compounds found in raw water, especially surface water. According to the EPA, the change reduced levels of chlorinated disinfection by-products by 47 percent (from 75 ppb to 40 ppb), on average. But, chemical changes do not occur “in a vacuum.” Corrosion scientists postulate that chloramines increased the corrosivity of the Washington, D.C. area drinking water, resulting in lead being leached from pipes and into the water supply.

In an attempt to reduce the risk to residents of chlorinated disinfection by-products, did WASA unwittingly increase the risk to residents of lead? A recent article in Scientific American.com reports that corrosion scientists warned about potential conflicts between these two rules, to no avail. One of a group of scientists, who wish to remain anonymous, is quoted as saying, “We were concerned that drastic changes in water treatment could disturb scales and mobilize metals.”ii

According to EPA chemist Michael Schock, chlorination makes water highly oxidizing, causing lead to settle out on the inside walls of pipes as lead oxide scale (PbO2). Chloramination, on the other hand, reduces the oxidizing potential of water, dissolving lead oxide scale, and releasing lead into water. Marc Edwards, a Professor of Engineering at Virginia Tech and former EPA consultant, warned the Agency and the water industry that changes in treatment were likely to cause trouble for home plumbing systems. His research shows that chloramines may mobilize lead from brass water fixtures. He also studied galvanic corrosion which occurs when brass and copper are in contact. In the presence of chloramines, lead leaching from brass in contact with copper proceeds between 4 and 100 times faster than normal. Lending support to this chemical argument, routine pipe flushing, performed in April in which chlorine was substituted for chloramines, resulted in lead level declines in 25-30 percent of homes serviced by lead service pipes. While it is possible that chloramines are corrosive, it is also possible that chlorine simply prevents corrosion.

Many water systems deal with corrosivity by adding the chemical orthophosphate, a corrosion inhibitor, to drinking water. Over time, orthophosphate forms a protective coating of minerals over lead pipe interiors, preventing lead leaching. WASA began adding orthophosphate to a small section of the city in June and has plans to expand this treatment during the summer.

It Comes Down to Lead Pipes

Although there is no definite agreement on the underlying chemical mechanism for lead entering area water, there is no doubt that the source of lead is 23,000 lead water service pipes under the streets. Water service pipes connect individual buildings and residences to the larger pipelines known as water mains. In total there are approximately 130,000 water service pipes under Washington, D.C. Most are made of copper and cast iron. Lead pipes are vestiges of older cities with aging infrastructure. In addition to lead pipes, the metal also may be leached from lead solder and brass fixtures. Exposure to lead is associated with neurological health effects. The most vulnerable groups are children under the age of five and pregnant women and nursing mothers.

Federal Steps

The House Committee on Government Reform convened an oversight hearing on March 5 to address the lead problem. The hearing resulted in a letter from three members of the committee to the EPA commending and endorsing the Agency’s plan to examine whether the LCR is adequate to protect public health, as required by the Safe Drinking Water Act. EPA has begun a national compliance review of the LCR. Benjamin Grumbles, acting assistant EPA administrator for water has called on the states to provide information on lead levels in various water systems. In early May he reported that as of then, lead did not appear to be a national problem. Legislation to reduce lead-contaminated drinking water and to better notify the public of high lead levels was introduced in the form of identical bills to the House and Senate on May 4.

Going for the Big Fix: Getting the Pipes Out to Get the Lead Out

“This is very much the right thing to do. These pipes have been in the ground over 100 years, and over the years, we’ve replaced some in fits and stops but never fully addressed it.”iii –Glenn S. Gerstell, WASA Board Chairman

On July 1, WASA’s board of directors approved an ambitious, accelerated $350 million plan to replace all lead service pipes across the city by 2010. The plan was approved despite the prospect of neighborhood disruptions and a probable increase in water rates. Some city leaders, including Mayor Anthony A. Williams, had been in favor of the utility foregoing a complete lead pipe replacement program until results of orthophosphate treatment could be evaluated. But, instead, the city has gone for “the big fix,” opting to remove the source of the problem rather than chemically “tweak the system.” And WASA has coordinated with a bank to offer low-interest loans to residents who elect to replace the private portion of their service lines. In the coming years, the Washington, D.C. example will be watched closely, especially by other aging cities as they decide how to deal with their own potential water quality problems.

iBNA, Inc. Daily Environment Report, May 24, 2004
ii Renner, R. (June 21, 2004). Leading to Lead. Scientific American.com. [On-Line].
Available: http://www.sciam.com.
iiiThe Washington Post, July 2, 2004

Balancing Competing Drinking Water Risks: EPA Preparing Final Microbial and Disinfection Byproduct Rules

Drinking water treatment represents one of the greatest public health achievements in history. Before U.S. cities began routinely chlorinating their drinking water supplies (starting with Chicago and Jersey City in 1908), cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery and hepatitis A killed thousands of residents every year. Where widely adopted, the combination of chlorine, filtration, and other water treatment practices have helped to virtually eliminate these diseases.

Despite this tremendous success, drinking water systems continue to face challenges in assuring that customers receive microbiologically safe water. One challenge is the emergence of pathogens such as Cryptosporidium that are resistant to chlorination and can appear even in high quality source waters. Another challenge is controlling disinfection byproducts (DBPs), chemical compounds formed unintentionally when chlorine and other disinfectants react with natural organic matter in water.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been engaged in a long-term effort both to improve barriers to Cryptosporidium and other emerging pathogens, and to limit exposures to certain DBPs commonly found in chlorinated water. Congress affirmed EPA’s Microbial & DBP rulemaking strategy as part of its 1996 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act.

EPA expects to complete key pieces of this strategy by early 2005, when it publishes the Stage 2 Disinfection Byproducts Rule (Stage 2 DBPR) and the Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule (LT2). Both rules are based on an Agreement in Principle, signed in September 2000 by members of a Federal Advisory Committee. This diverse group of experts, including representatives from water utilities, state regulators, public health agencies, environmentalists and other organizations, developed a consensus set of recommendations to reduce DBP levels cost-effectively, while improving protection from microbial contaminants.

LT2: A Toolbox for Microbial Protection

In April 1993, Cryptosporidium caused of the largest reported outbreak of drinking water-related disease in U.S. history. The outbreak affected over 400,000 people in the city of Milwaukee and led to more than 100 deaths. Following the Milwaukee outbreak, EPA has taken a stepwise approach to addressing Cryptosporidium risks

An interim rule published in 1998 covers large drinking waters systems (those serving more than 10,000 persons). It sets a non-enforceable goal (known as a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal, or MCLG) for Cryptosporidium at zero, and requires all filtered systems to achieve a 99% (2 log) reduction of the pathogen. EPA’s Long-Term 1 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule (LT1), finalized in 2002, extends these requirements to smaller systems. EPA believes these current treatment requirements will adequately protect customers served by most systems. However, the Agency believes additional treatment is necessary for some potentially vulnerable systems, including unfiltered systems and filtered systems with the highest levels of Cryptosporidium in their source water.

The LT2 applies to all systems that use surface water or ground water under the direct influence of surface water. It requires systems to conduct initial monitoring to determine Cryptosporidium levels in source water. Unfiltered systems must provide at least 99 or 99.9 percent (2 or 3 log) inactivation of Cryptosporidium, depending on the results of their monitoring. Filtered systems are assigned to regulatory “bins,” with additional treatment requirements for higher Cryptosporidium levels (see table below).

Bin Number
Cryptosporidium Concentration oocysts/L
Additional Treatment Requirements
1
<0.075
No additional treatment
2
0.075 to <1.0
1 log*
3
1.0 to <3.0
2 log*
4
>3.0
2.5 log*
* Applies to plants using conventional, softening, slow sand, and diatomaceous earth filtration. Direct filter plants require an additional 0.5 log removal (i.e., 1.5 log, 2.5 log, and 3.0 log for bins 2, 3, and 4 respectively).

EPA predicts that the majority of systems will fall into Bin 1 and require no additional treatment. For systems falling into Bins 2-4, the Agency has proposed a range of treatment and management strategies, collectively termed the “microbial toolbox.” For each option, EPA specifies a log reduction credit that applies towards the treatment requirements. Systems may select one or more options to achieve the total additional log reduction required for their respective bins. Options include establishing a watershed control program (0.5 log credit), employing bank filtration (0.5 – 1.0 log credit), and using membranes (log credit based on demonstrated removal efficiency). The toolbox also provides credits for systems that adopt alternative disinfection technologies (chlorine dioxide, ozone or UV disinfection) proven to be effective against Cryptosporidium. Log credit is based on demonstration of inactivation with contact time table.

The proposed LT2 also requires disinfection profiling to prevent any backsliding on disinfection efficacy. Disinfection profiling involves assessing the level of disinfection currently provided and then determining the impact that a proposed change in disinfection practice would have on this level. Whatever treatment options are adopted under LT2 or the Stage 2 DBPR, a water system may not reduce the efficacy of its disinfection technologies on any group of pathogens.

Stage 2 DBPR: Reducing Hazards Across Distribution Systems

In the early 1970s, EPA scientists determined that drinking water chlorination could form a group of byproducts known as trihalomethanes (THMs), including chloroform. Concerned that these chemicals may be carcinogenic to humans, EPA set the first regulatory limits for THMs in 1979. While the potential health risks posed by THMs and other DBPs remain uncertain, high levels of DBPs are clearly undesirable, and cost-effective measures are available to reduce them. The first DBP standards, which covered systems serving more the 10,000 people, limited THM levels to 100 parts per billion (ppb).

In December 1998 EPA issued the Stage 1 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule (Stage 1 DBPR) to cover all systems that use chlorine or other disinfection chemicals. The Stage 1 DBPR mandates a process called enhanced coagulation to remove natural organic matter, and thereby reduce the potential for DBPs to form. The rule also sets enforceable Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for total THMs at 80 ppb and the sum of five Haloacetic Acids (HAAs) at 60 ppb. These MCLs are based on system-wide running annual averages, meaning that concentrations may be higher at certain times and at certain points in the system, as long as the system-wide average for the year is below the MCL.

The primary purpose of the Stage 2 DBPR is to address the uneven level of protection that may result from averaging DBP levels across distribution systems. As recommended by the Federal Advisory Committee, the MCLs for THMs and five HAAs will remain 80 ppb and 60 ppb respectively. However, the rule will base compliance on locational running annual averages. Each system must identify locations within its distribution system that are likely to have the highest DBP concentrations. When the Stage 2 DBPR is fully implemented, no location within a system will be allowed to exceed the limits for regulated byproducts.

A key element of DBP control is to remove natural organic matter prior to disinfection. EPA has published a guidance document for water system operators entitled, Controlling Disinfection Byproducts and Microbial Contaminants in Drinking Water (EPA, 2001). The EPA guidance discusses several processes to remove natural organic matter effectively prior to disinfection, including optimized coagulation processes and membrane technology.

Water system managers may also look at switching from chlorine to alternative disinfectants to reduce formation of THMs and HAAs. However, all chemical disinfectants form some DBPs, and much less is known about the byproducts of these alternatives than is known about chlorination byproducts. A recent EPA study sampled drinking water across the U.S. (disinfected with the different disinfectants and with different water quality, including elevated levels of bromide in the source water). EPA quantified levels of about 50 DBPs considered “high priority” for further study. While the use of alternative disinfectants lowered the levels of the regulated THMs and HAAs (as compared to chlorine), many of the other prioritized DBPs were formed at higher levels with these alternative disinfectants. Through the study, EPA also detected more than 200 previously unidentified DBPs.

Water system officials must also consider additional impacts of modifying their treatment processes. As discussed in an accompanying article [Reducing Lead Levels in Washington, D.C. Drinking Water], a change in disinfection methods implemented to reduce DBP levels in Washington, D.C.’s water system may have increased the corrosivity of the water, resulting in lead leaching from pipes and into the water supplied to some homes. This case highlights the need for regulators and water system officials to take a holistic approach to addressing drinking water quality, rather than a strictly contaminant-by-contaminant approach.

Path Forward

Although the Federal Advisory Committee reached consensus on key provisions of the Stage 2 DBPR and LT2 nearly four years ago, EPA and water systems have significant work left to do. EPA released proposals for both rules in 2003, and solicited comments from interested groups and the general public. The Agency received hundreds of comments, and will take these into account as it prepares its final rules.

Implementation of both rules would be phased in over time. Requirements for large systems would be fully implemented six years after the final rules are published. Smaller systems would have an additional one and a half to two and a half years to meet the standards.

Although EPA must still address many details, the broad framework for the LT2 and Stage 2 DBPR represents a balanced approach to addressing both the acute risks of waterborne disease outbreaks and potential long-term concerns about DBP exposure. Following consensus recommendations from a diverse group of experts, EPA crafted a strategy to achieve three distinct goals 1) reduce exposures from THMs and HAAs, 2) increase protection against emerging microbial threats, and 3) ensure that the tremendous public health gains achieved through current disinfection practices are maintained as water systems address new priorities.

Public Health and Your Local Pool

Summertime Campaign Asks, “Are You Swimming in a Healthy Pool?”

Dr. Joan Rose addresses the media at the Healthy Pools launch event, National Press Club, Washington DC (June 2, 2004)

For millions of Americans a summertime swim is a seasonal rite of passage. There are approximately 360 million annual visits in the United States to swimming pools either in the backyard, local recreation center, neighborhood swim club or vacation hotel. According to U.S. Census data, recreational swimming ranks as the second most popular exercise activity in the country. Unfortunately, many ventures into a swimming pool occur in poorly maintained or neglected facilities, which can make for some unnecessary and uncomfortable summertime sick days.

In fact, research reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2003 found that 54% of all swimming pools tested were in violation of at least one public health code. These infractions included faulty water disinfection practices, improper water chemistry, filtration system irregularities, improper record keeping and licensing problems. As a result, more than two thousand Recreational Water Illnesses (RWIs) and four deaths occurred in 1999-2000 because of water system failures in recreation pools. This total was ten times the rate of the decade before and affected 10,000 people, according to the CDC.

Too often when we take to the pool in search of an invigorating, healthy experience, we may actually be entering risky waters where public health is at stake.

Recreational Water Illness

RWIs can be spread by swallowing, breathing or having contact with contaminated water from swimming pools, spas, lakes, rivers or oceans. The results can include symptoms such as skin, ear, respiratory, eye and wound infections. The most commonly reported RWI is diarrhea, which can emanate from contact with germs such as Giardia, E. coli, Shigella and Cryptosporidium.

It’s a basic public health issue. The stool of a person who is ill with diarrhea contains millions of germs. When that person enters the swimming pool, so do the germs associated with his/her illness. The result can lead to contamination of the water, opening the rest of the pools occupants to potential RWI episodes if the pool water is ingested or contacts an open wound.

Pool Treatment 101

Maintaining a high standard of water quality is every pool owner’s aim. The most popular method towards achieving this goal is through the proper use of chlorine. For general pool treatment, chlorine has three essential characteristics:

1. It acts as a rapid and persistent sanitizer;
2. It is an effective algaecide;
3. It is a strong oxidizer of undesired contaminants.

Routine chlorination kills harmful microorganisms that can cause health-related problems, such as diarrhea, Legionnaires disease, and the viruses that cause ear infections and athlete’s foot. While chlorine kills most germs that cause RWIs within minutes, it takes longer to kill some germs such as Cryptosporidium that can survive for days in even a properly disinfected pool. Therefore, healthy swimming behaviors and good hygiene are needed to protect you and your family from RWIs and will help stop germs from getting in the pool.

Chlorine should be regularly added to the pool water and levels should be tested daily – at a minimum – for proper disinfection. Hourly if the pool is heavily used.

However, you should not smell “chlorine.” Ironically, a strong chemical odor does not mean there is too much chlorine in the water, it means there is not enough. A strong chemical odor is actually an indication of the presence of chloramines and an unhealthy pool. Chloramines form when chlorine combines with perspiration, urine, saliva, body oils, lotions and other wastes introduced into pools by swimmers. Chloramines render chlorine less effective for killing germs, and high levels may cause skin, eye, or respiratory irritation.

In addition to utilizing chlorine, swimming pool operators should vigilantly monitor pH levels, and make adjustments accordingly. Proper pH levels ensure that the chlorine is working effectively. The pH should be maintained between 7.2 and 7.8. While the dispersal of chemicals evenly throughout your pool is important, proper filtration and circulation are also essential for the removal of debris. Understanding the proper use of return jets, the pump and the filter will go a long way toward eliminating most problems.

The chemicals needed in pools to maintain the required standards differ from pool to pool, and day to day. Guidelines set by the National Spa and Pool Institute (NSPI) are widely used. However, it is also advisable to check your local or state health code.

NATIONAL SPA AND POOL INSTITUTE (Suggested chemical standards for swimming pools)
Free chlorine, ppm 2.0 – 4.0 ppm
Combined chlorine, ppm None
pH level 7.2 – 7.8 (ideal range of 7.4 – 7.6)
Total alkalinity, ppm

  • for liquid chlorine, cal hypo, lithium hypo
  • for gas chlorine, dichlor, trichlor and bromine compounds
80 – 100 ppm
100 – 120 ppm
Total dissolved solids, ppm Not to exceed 1500 ppm greater than at pool start-up
Calcium hardness, ppm 200 – 400 ppm
Cyanuric acid, ppm 30 – 50 ppm

Public Opinion on Swimming Pool Public Health

It’s a fact that many swimmers are not aware that a simple summertime swim can lead to illness. A public survey commissioned by the National Consumers League (NCL) confirmed this, finding that approximately 60 percent of respondents believe that it is unlikely that someone can get sick from swimming in a swimming pool.

Additional data collected by the May 2004 NCL research included the following data points:

  • 75% believed diapered children are at the root of diarrheal contamination in swimming pools
  • One-fifth of respondents believed if you could smell the chlorine, the pool was safe.
  • One-fifth said a little urine doesn’t harm the health of the pool water.
  • 88% agreed you should use soap and water after using the bathroom if you plan to jump back in the pool. Nearly 75% said they shower before going in.
  • Nearly 94% said a “poop” accident should be reported immediately.

To increase public education and affect public awareness on this issue, a Healthy Pools partnership comprised of the CDC, National Consumers League, the Water Quality and Health Council, the Chlorine Chemistry Division of the American Chemistry Council and the National Spa & Pool Institute was formed in the spring of 2004. The cooperative joined together in a campaign to promote basic public health awareness and personal responsibility as the best means of ensuring an enjoyable, healthy swimming experience.

“Sense”-able Swimming

While the Healthy Pools campaign focused on the dissemination of a variety of swimming pool health issues involving proper maintenance, good personal hygiene and public education on the issue, the hallmark of the campaign was the partnership’s “Sense”-able Swimming tips. As an easy-to-use method of checking on the health of pool water, “Sense”-able Swimming follows these basic but effective rules of thumb:

  • Sight: The painted stripes and the drain at the bottom of the pool should appear crisp and clear at the bottom of the pool
  • Touch: Swimming pool sides should not be sticky or slippery
  • Smell: Chlorine is essential to a healthy pool, but a heavy chemical odor signals a problem
  • Sound: The sound of active pool cleaning equipment is the sound of an active pool maintenance program
  • Taste: Don’t swallow pool water, and try to avoid getting it in your mouth at all
  • Common Sense: Don’t swim when you are ill with diarrhea
To publicize the Healthy Pools message, the partnership executed a multi-faceted public relations campaign, communicating both the need for the general public to recognize the signs of unhealthy pool water and the necessity of taking personal responsibility for ensuring the quality of the water in which communities swim. The Healthy Pools campaign successfully promoted the messages of the partnership through the following efforts:
National Consumers League president Linda Golodner discusses the Healthy Pools campaign with ABC Radio
  • A June 2nd press conference at the National Press Club in Washington DC, featuring CDC epidemiologist Michael Beach, National Consumers League president Linda Golodner and noted Michigan State University microbiologist Joan Rose
  • Development and launch of the campaign website, www.healthypools.org, complete with Healthy Pools campaign information documents, including:
  • “Sense”-able Swimming Fact Sheet
  • Healthy Swimming Pool Frequently Asked Questions
  • Swimming Pools: Myth & Fact
  • Pool Treatment 101
  • CDC’s Six “Pleas” for Healthy Swimming
  • NCL’s Healthy Pools Public Survey Results
  • Healthy Pools Coloring Book
  • Publication of a Healthy Swimming op-ed in The Washington Times bylined by NCL’s Linda Golodner
  • Distribute the “Make a Splash for Public Health This Summer” press release to media outlets
  • Distribute the “Sense”-able Swimming press release through North American Precis Syndicate (NAPS)
  • National broadcast media pick up of the Healthy Pools campaign June 2nd launch through an NBC network news service report, yielding an office of more than five million viewers nationwide
  • Successful national broadcast media pitches garnering appearances by CDC’s Michael Beach on the CBS’s The Early Show, CNN’s American Morning and CNN Headline News

The summer months have the potential to provide the healthiest experiences of the year and recreational swimming is a popular way for Americans to beat the heat. Yet many times, that simple summertime swim can become a source of health risk and some unpleasant experiences. However, the Healthy Pools campaign has offered the tools for a healthy alternative. With a measure of awareness, personal responsibility and common sense, millions of Americans can enjoy the sunny swimming months assured that their summer dips will be in healthy pools.

Washington Update – Summer ’04 Newsletter

White House Commitments to Clean Beaches

In April, the Bush Administration announced its “Clean Beaches” strategic initiative, an effort to improve the quality of the nation’s beaches and ensure compliance with the Beaches, Environmental Assessment and Coastal (BEACH) Act of 2000. “Clean Beaches” will include grant funding for beach monitoring and notification programs, technical guidance and scientific studies.

The BEACH Act of 2000 mandated that U.S. coastal states, including those bordering the Great Lakes, adopt up-to-date pathogen criteria to prevent beachgoers from harmful bacteria. To date, only 11 out of the 35 affected states and territories have complied with this provision.

Under the Clean Water Act, EPA issues pathogen criteria, which serve as state guidelines for adopting standards. Although EPA issued criteria for E. coli and enterococci in 1986, many states still rely on outdated standards for total or fecal coliforms. EPA’s research indicates that there is little correlation between coliform levels and swimming-related illness (gastroenteritis) in either marine or fresh waters. In contrast, correlations for E. coli (in fresh waters) and enterococci (in marine waters) are high, showing that these bacteria are reliable indicators for the presence of harmful pathogens.

The Clean Beaches Plan and related documents are available at:
http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/beaches/

EPA Funds Drinking Water Counter-Terrorism Efforts

In May, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it allocated nearly $5 million in state and tribal assistance grants to assist drinking water systems across the nation. The funding is earmarked to bolster defenses from possible terrorism acts against U.S. public water systems.

Under a program initiated in 2002, the grants are allocated for continued support of counter-terrorism coordination with state, local and federal governments. The effort was developed to ensure drinking water utilities receive technical assistance and training on homeland security issues, including vulnerability assessments and emergency response plans.

Along with the grant allocation, an additional $2 million in funding was established for the Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) program, an initiative conducted in conjunction with the EPA Office of Water. ETV was developed to create innovative protocols and testing technologies to monitor the safety and security of the nation’s drinking water systems and supplies. It is anticipated that these technologies will provide dual benefits to homeland security efforts, offering an additional level of protection from potential biological and chemical contamination of U.S. drinking water supplies.

EPA Establishes DRINK System

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced in May that is has developed a publicly accessible, web-based network to provide the latest information on drinking water research. The Drinking Water Research Information Network (DRINK) tracks ongoing research conducted by the EPA and partners from national, regional and international research agencies and organizations.

DRINK contains descriptive information on research projects, including title, abstract, start and end dates, principal investigator and contact information. Users can obtain information on research topics of individual interest and minimize the duplication of research by different organizations.

The creation of DRINK was initiated after the release of an October 1999 U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) report recommending that the EPA better communicate the efforts of the drinking water research community. With the May launch of DRINK the EPA improves its capacity to identify research priorities by determining what researchers are planning to study in the future and the status of their current efforts.

For further information about the EPA’s DRINK program, please go to:
http://www.epa.gov/safewater/drink/intro.html

New National Wetland Initiative Announced

On Earth Day 2004, the Bush Administration announced a new national goal to improve and protect at least three million additional acres of wetlands over the next five years. President Bush’s announcement identified the formation of a partnership of federal, state, local and private entities to achieve the new environmental goal.

Currently, thirty programs to protect and restore millions of acres of the country’s wetlands are being conducted across the country, including the “Five-Star Restoration” grant program and the National Estuary Program. Other programs include the Food Security Act’s “Swampbuster” program and the Wetlands Reserve Program under the authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In addition, the EPA is continuing its work on the national Wetlands Mitigation Action Plan and coordinating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state partners to implement the Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands permit program. The Bush Administration’s 2005 budget proposes to increase EPA funding by five million dollars for grants to states that will help them address the gaps in wetlands protection.

Read more about the EPA’s wetlands program at:
http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands

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