Center for Disease Control Report

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), located in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, is an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. This agency employs thousands of people, in a number of locations throughout the United States, as well as working closely with other governments around the world. When seeking information on health and well being, many of us turn to information released by the CDC, knowing it will be accurate, enlightening, and beneficial.

Since 1971, the Center for Disease Control and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have maintained a collaborative surveillance system for collecting and periodically reporting data that relate to occurrences and causes of waterborne-disease outbreaks. The surveillance system includes data provided by state, territorial, and local health departments covering outbreaks associated with drinking water and recreational water. This reporting to the CDC is on a voluntary basis. While we all understand that statistics released are not necessarily as current as we would like them to be, when the CDC issues information, it is always informative, pertinent, and revealing. The following information was provided for a two year period, 1995 – 1996, and was released in a December 1998 article by the CDC.

The statistics found in this report is representative of a bigger picture and does not reflect the true number of waterborne-disease outbreaks. The report is limited by the fact that not all outbreaks are recognized, investigated, or reported. This particular surveillance report of 22 waterborne-disease outbreaks was compiled from the reporting of 13 states. During this time, over thousands of people became ill but fortunately there were no deaths reported. Of the 22 outbreaks, the cause of 14 could be identified while the other 8 outbreaks were described as “AGI: Acute gastrointestinal illness of unknown etiology.” (It is interesting to note that the number of outbreaks, as described in this report, were comparable to those reported for each year during 1987-1994, except for an increase in 1992. The CDC primarily uses number of outbreaks rather than persons effected, thus, the 400,000 people who became ill in 1993 from Cryptosporidium in the drinking water counts as one outbreak.) The bottom line on this report reveals the startling fact that here in the United States the quality of our drinking water is also compromised by the very same things in the water of our third-world neighbors…bacteria, parasites, viruses!

THE PROBLEM

We do have a problem with chemical contamination in our drinking water. However, as the graph in Figure 1 demonstrates, “Infectious or suspected infectious etiology” far outweighs chemicals in water contamination. These infections have names: Giardia lamblia, Shigella sonnei, Escherichia coli (E. coli), Cryptosporidium, Fecal Coliforms. There are three basic categories of pathogen that can be found in water. The first is protozoa. Protozoa include the well-known Giardia, and the not-so-well-known Cryptosporidium. These two have been detected in 90% of U.S. surface water. Protozoa are the largest organisms of our three categories, ranging in size from 1-16 microns. They are more resistant to disinfection by iodine or chlorine than either bacteria or virus, but can be effectively filtered. Giardia is relatively large and easy to catch, but Crypto is smaller and more difficult to eliminate. The second category is bacteria. Bacteria include such commonly known organisms as Campylobacter, E. coli, Vibrio cholera, and Salmonella. Bacteria are intermediate sized organisms, ranging from .2 to about 10 microns. The third category is viruses. Commonly known viruses include Rotavirus, Hepatitis A, Norwalk, and Polio. Viruses are truly tiny; they range in size between .02 and .085 microns.

 

WHAT HAPPENED?

As shown on Figure 2, this graph deals with the different types of water systems in the United States and where deficiencies were discovered with regards to outbreaks of illness. Please note the very small number of systems classified as ‘individual’. The following are definitions used by the Center for Disease Control:

“Community Water System: A public water system that serves year-round residents of a community, subdivision, or a mobile-home park that has greater than or equal to 15 service connections or an average of greater than or equal to 25 residents.”

“Noncommunity Water System: A public water system that a) serves an institution, industry, camp, park, hotel, or business that is used by public for greater than or equal to 60 days per year; b) has greater than or equal to 15 service connections or serves an average of greater than or equal to 25 persons; and c) is not a community water system.”

As the graph demonstrates the cause of the outbreak is frightening: chemical contamination equals bacteria, viral, and parasitic contamination, with unknown sources leading the outbreaks. But the truly sobering facts remain that the water quality we depended upon was shown lacking when it was reported that nearly 70% of the outbreaks came when the distribution/treatment systems failed the very ones who were depending upon them.

WHAT IS IT?

Although recreational water is not necessarily viewed as a source of illness, unfortunately that is not the case. As you can see by Figure 3 “water play” has been linked to many outbreaks of illness. The information in this figure goes hand in hand to those in Figure 2. As demonstrated, the greatest percentage of contaminated water is found in a lake or a spring… Figure 2 shows these were used as our water sources in over 40 percent of illness outbreaks….and shows the deficiency of the dispensing or treatment systems. (This graph also shows the seriousness of the types of contamination, for example, cryptosporidium parvum which CANNOT be killed with chlorine. One single oocyst will make a person very ill.)

 

WHAT MADE US SICK?

MTBE, chlorine, pesticides, chemicals are found in our drinking water. It is common knowledge that these agents pose a health threat and that over long periods of exposure can cause cancer as well as heart disease. However, never to diminish these dangers, it is still prudent for us to take note of the causes of waterborne-disease outbreaks as illustrated in the graph found in Figure 4. The dangers of bacteria and parasites in our water are very real and cannot be ignored.

 

WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN TO ME?

When it comes to water and what must be done to improve its quality, may be a confusing issue and a frustrating one. Without disinfecting, water can be the cause of serious illnesses ultimately effecting thousands. History has shown that many times, the disinfecting procedures fail the very ones that are depending upon it. The failure has come in the form of not true decontamination and also the chemicals used to clean the water have been demonstrated to cause serious health problems as well. What do we do? It is prudent that we all take control of our health and that of our family’s and seek the solution ourselves.

The AquaRain™ Water Filtration System has been engineered to provide safe drinking water from raw water sources such as rivers, lakes, streams, creeks, ponds, wells, and cisterns. At the heart of the AquaRain™ Water Filtration System are state-of-the-art ceramic elements utilizing a long-proven filtration process that is over 100 years old which will safely remove dangerous waterborne pathogens such as cysts(Cryptospordium, Giardia lamblia) and bacteria (E. coli, Samonelli typhus, etc…). These innovative ceramic elements are also filled with a high grade silvered granulated activated carbon (GAC). The GAC reduces pesticides, chemicals, chlorine, color, tastes and odors, while leaving the naturally occurring minerals found in the water unaffected.

Reports continue to come in and rather than improvement, water quality continues to deteriorate. What could be more important than clean, safe water? The AquaRain Natural Water Filter will provide your family with water you can trust, all without having to boil your water, use potentially dangerous chemicals, or rely on man-made energy.

Is Bottled Water an Answer?

The deteriorating taste and quality of tap water and the fear of unknown contaminants have made bottled water a solution for many families. In fact, it is one of the fastest-growing “beverages” on the market, surpassing that of tea, wine, liquor, powdered drinks, and juice. Customers report that their primary reason for buying bottled water centers around taste, but other reasons are safety and concerns about chemicals in tap water.The question remains, is bottled water worth the difference in cost, at an average cost of 700 times more than plain tap water?

As far back as March 2000, popular radio commentator Paul Harvey reported on a congressional panel that accused the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of not properly regulating the bottled water industry. Strict rules govern both bottled and tap water industries. Public water utilities are governed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while bottled water, however, isconsidered a food and is monitored by the FDA. A report from the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington found that microbiologic contaminants exceeding allowed levels were found innearly one third of the bottled water samples tested by the FDA. The FDA is responsible for setting standards for bottled water, making sure that it is tested periodically and to inspect bottlers’ test records as well as sanitary conditions. As Mr. Harvey reported, the panel contends that the FDA is not doing its job and also said that tap water may be safer to drink than bottled water! (This is a serious indictment against an industry which insofar as the consumers are concerned, perceive that they are purchasing safe, clean, quality water.)

Consider the following information regarding this ‘food’:

û Storage of bottled water, often for weeks or months at room temperature and higher, promotes bacterial growth in the water. Elevated levels of bacteria in water can cause health problems for infants, the elderly, and immunocompromised people.

û Benzene, a chemical known to cause cancer in humans, was detected in bottles of a major bottled water company at levels that exceeded by four times the EPA standards for tap water.

û Municipal water supplies are used as the source for approximately 25% of the bottled water sold in the United States.

û Two major soft drink manufacturers, entering the bottled water market, were found to be using municipal water sources while representing the water as mineral or mountain spring waters.

û The word ‘natural’ is allowed for bottled water if any natural chemical (mineral and trace elements) has not been altered as a result of a treatment process.

“Water suppliers have an obligation to produce safe, clean drinking water, whether it comes from a tap or a bottle,” says American Water Works Association executive Director Jack Hoffbuhr. “Unfortunately, the public remains uninformed about bottled water quality, including what – if any – treatment water bottlers undertake before selling their product.”

The bottom line: bottled water may not be the answer both for health and economic reasons. A family purchasing water at discount center prices could easily spend close to $600 in one year’s time for only 600 gallons of water. This would not include the multitudinous number of bottled water sales at convenience stores which can run close to $2.00 for a single 32 ounce bottle! Safe, clean drinking water, is available with the AquaRain, for less than 1/2 of a penny! Is bottled water an answer to our needs? For the wise and the prudent, a quality water filter system at home and then the morning fill of your own sports bottle makes much more sense.

The Blessing and Curse of Chlorination

The problem of contaminated water is an old problem. Hundreds of Americans, even through the 1920s and the 1930s, have died from typhoid fever and amoebic dysentery caused by drinking polluted municipal water. The use of chlorine to purify water supplies is considered one of the most important public health advances of the twentieth century. Following the introduction of widespread water chlorination, once-common diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever were practically eliminated. Using disinfectants, along with improved filtration and sewage treatment, dramatic improvements in our water quality have been achieved. Today 98% of U.S. drinking water is disinfected by chlorine.

The bad news is that the chlorination cure-all does have a downside. Disinfection by-products (DBPs) resulting from the reaction between chlorine and organic material, such as leaves and sediment in the source water, are now found in our drinking water. In the 1970s, certain DBPs were found to cause adverse health effects. According to the EPA, chronic exposure to chlorine and chlorine by-products may cause liver, kidney, heart, and neurological damage, as well as affecting unborn children. Chlorinating, which kills bacteria, also kills body cells. Chlorinating can produce trihalomethanes (THM), which have been found to be carcinogenic. A study led by Kenneth P. Cantor at the National Cancer Institute, which was published in the Journal of National Cancer Institute, found that people who drank 8 cups of chlorinated tap water for 40-59 years had a 40% greater risk of bladder cancer than those who drank less tap water or unchlorinated water. People who drank 8 cups of chlorinated tap water for 60 or more years had an 80% greater risk of bladder cancer.

An article from the January 1995, Environmental Health Perspectives: Consumers must still rely on chemical disinfection to prevent waterborne disease. From 1971 to 1990, more than 140,000 people nationwide became ill from microbial contamination of drinking water, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, according to Robert D. Morris, an epidemiologist with the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, such numbers on waterborne disease are only speculative. “The surveillance systems for waterborne disease are designed only to address severe outbreaks. They are useless for dealing with diseases where there is no mortality and which are self-limiting.” Thus, the numbers of people affected by waterborne disease are likely much higher than reported numbers. EPA is attempting to balance risks from microbial contaminants against risks from disinfectants and disinfection by-products.

Dr. Joseph Price, writer of Coronary/Cholesterol/Chlorine, noted an elevated rate of arteriosclerosis among servicemen in Vietnam who drank chlorinated water. He noticed unusually increased rates of cholesterol in 18 and 20 year old men and concluded that it was caused by the chlorinated water. His theory was born out when he tested it in a controlled situation with animals…he gave some chlorinated water and some not. While researching his book, Dr. Price also found the small city of Fullerton, Pennsylvania, which had no water treatment, boasting a population which suffers with no heart disease. This was true, even though most of the population of Fullterton is of Italian ancestry, and they consumed what should have been a high cholesterol diet. The question is, can chlorinating our water lead to heart disease??

A February 20th news article out of the United Kingdom reported that an independent study into the use of chlorine-treated drinking water has been ordered by the Government because of fears that it may causespina bifida and stillbirth. Scientists will carry out the research after doctors in other parts of the world reported higher levels of birth defects in areas where chlorine is used, compared with drinking water treated by alternative methods. All of Britain’s water companies chlorinate their supplies.

A Norwegian study of 141,000 births over three years, found a 14 percent increased risk of birth defects in areas with chlorinated water. Scientists have already found an association between chlorine and an increased risk of bowel, kidney, and bladder cancer, but it is the first time that a link has been found with higher levels of spina bifida.

Chlorinated water touches everyone. Mr. Erik D. Olson, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, says: “One of the largest exposures to chlorinated compounds is from drinking water. Virtually every person in the country is exposed daily, even hourly, to chlorinated water.”

It is important that each family takes precautions as to the quality of water which we drink. The AquaRain Water Filtration System has been specifically engineered to provide safe drinking water from raw water sources as well as municipal sources which we wish to filter. The innovative ceramic elements are filled with a high grade silvered granulated activated carbon and will remove bacteria, cysts, pesticides, chemicals, chlorine, tastes and odors, while leaving the naturally occurring minerals and beneficial electrolytes found in the water unaffected. The ceramic shell is manufactured of natural inert materials (diatomaceous earth and clay) and will gently filter drinking water nature’s way using gravity.

Water is simply poured into the upper container of the AquaRain system where it trickles down through the highly specialized ceramic filter elements, leaving cysts, bacteria, and sediment in the outer layer of the ceramic. After passing through the thick ceramic wall, the water flows through a bed of silvered coconut shell carbon which adsorbs pesticides, various organic chemicals, and chlorine. The filtered water then drips into the lower storage container where it accumulates for easy dispensing with a handy lever-action faucet. The ceramic filters are easily cleaned – up to 200 times – and feature individually attached wear indicators.

When seeking self-reliant living, as well as safe, cost effective drinking water from an energy-free source, a gravity water system is the answer. It is gravity fed. No electricity or water pressure is needed. Ceramic filters safely remove dangerous waterborne pathogens such as cysts and bacteria without the use of dangerous chemicals like chlorine or iodine or the high energy costs of a distiller. The energy-free gravity operation of an AquaRain Water Filter, combined with very long life, state-of-the-art ceramic technology and high quality coconut shell carbon, allows this filter system to produce safe, clean drinking water at the absolute lowest cost per gallon. The durable and attractive stainless steel housing with long lasting ceramic filter elements make the AquaRain Gravity Water Filter System the absolute best value for the dollar in comparison to any other water filter system. All this with the ADDED benefit of its ability to keep producing safe drinking water in an emergency.

The Curse of Contaminated Water

Is there a ‘hidden, unspoken’ problem associated with the quality of the drinking water in the U.S.? When water quality in third world countries is discussed, no one is surprised to hear that the problem faced in their drinking water always surrounds bacterial, parasitic, and viral contaminations. Here in the United States, we assume and/or are told by the pundits, that our main concern deals with heavy metals or chemical contaminants, ie: lead, copper, nitrates. While never diminishing the concerns we have with regards to these issues, microbial contaminants are by far the greater threat, and you may find the following information alarming.

There are three basic categories of pathogen that can be found in water. The first is protozoa which is the largest organism of the three categories, ranging in size from 1-16 microns. Protozoa include the well-known Giardia Lamblia, and the not-so-well-known Cryptosporidium Parvum, which have been detected in 90% of U.S. surface water. These protozoa are more resistant to disinfection by chlorine or iodine than either bacteria or virus, but can be effectively filtered. The second category is bacteria, which are considered intermediate sized organisms, ranging from .2 to about 10 microns. Bacteria include such commonly-known organisms as Typhus, Campylobacteria, E. coli, Vibrio cholera, and Salmonella. The third category is viruses, which are truly tiny in size between .02 and .085 microns. Commonly known viruses include Rotavirus, Polio, Norwalk, and Hepatitis A.

As per a recent report, it has been determined that healthy people can be infected with minute exposure to Cryptosporidium, a small parasitic organism. In light of this report, the Natural Resources Defense Council asserts that at least 45 million people are at risk of this diarrhea causing pathogen in what may appear as clean drinking water. Just how many people can really become infected from their drinking water is impossible to estimate. The systems who responded represent only a small percentage of Americans; thus, the NRDC says the figure of 45 million may be extremely conservative at best.

Cryptosporidium can remain viable for months in sewage, runoff from feedlots, or groundwater until it finds a new host. This protozoa is neither killed by chlorine nor removed by standard filters. Like the very young, the elderly are at greatly increased risk from waterborne pathogens such as E.coli or Cryptosporidium parvum. Officials are concerned with the seriousness of this problem, and it has been recently said by Mr. L.D. McMullen, CEO of the Des Moines, Iowa, public water system and chairman of the National Drinking Water Advisory Council that he envisions a future in which utilities would deliver bottled water door to door, like milk. Others said physicians could write prescriptions for bottled water!

Cryptosporidium is a very real and serious threat to the quality of our water. According to University of Florida researcher Joan Rose, the minimum infectious dose is low, JUST ONE SINGLE OOCYST! Recent data has indicated that pregnant women, as well as children and the immunocompromised, may be more susceptible. Finally, NO EFFECTIVE TREATMENT has been found. In one test, after soaking cryptosporidium oocysts in straight household bleach for 24 hours, it was still able to infect mice. We may all recall the 1993 outbreak of cryptosporidia which swept through water-treatment filters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. An estimated 400,000 people became sick with varying degrees of illness including diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea, vomiting, and fever. Almost one hundred persons died associated with this outbreak.

We do have a problem with chemical contamination in our drinking water; however, infectious or suspected infectious etiology far outweighs chemicals in water contamination. These infections have names: Giardia Lamblia, Shigella sonnei, Escherichia coli (E. coli), Cryptosporidium, Fecal Coliforms. We must remain guarded and protect our family as best as we can. The AquaRain Gravity Water Filter System removes waterborne pathogens including cysts and bacteria. These filter elements offer the tightest effective ceramic filtration, providing removal of pathogenic bacteria and cysts far exceeding EPA purifier requirements…all without having to boil your water, use potentially dangerous chemicals, or rely on man-made energy.

The Hidden Threat of MTBE

There’s a pending crisis in America, one that could affect every man, woman and child. It strikes at the very nerve of our everyday lives-our drinking water. It’s a crisis so potentially serious that even the top federal agency over the environment is perplexed as to how to handle it.

On January 16th, 2000, CBS News’ 60 Minutes reported on the concerns over methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) contaminating the water in 49 states. Widely used as a gasoline oxygenate to reduce air pollutants, MTBE has seeped into drinking water wells from underground fuel tanks (as well as other sources). Surface waters have also become contaminated by fuel from recreational vehicles.

MTBE has become the oxygenate of choice in over 85 percent of the time, as ethanol is found in only 8 percent of all reformulated gasoline today. In the words of 60 Minutes’ correspondent Steve Kroft, “Even the government now says that we’re facing a national crisis if something isn’t done to stop MTBE from leaking into our drinking water.”

Through the fall of 1999, MTBE was used at the rate of about one gallon of pure MTBE forevery ten gallons of reformatted gasoline, or 10 percent of every tank. If we multiply the number of gallons of gas used in this country every day, by every person who fills their tank with gasoline, we may only begin to imagine the magnitude of this problem. As was reported, MTBE is highly water soluble and because of leaking underground petroleum storage tanks, has become a contaminant in 35 percent of the nation’s urban wells. Researchers estimate that thousands of community water wells located near leaky underground storage tanks are at risk of being contaminated by MTBE. The city of Santa Monica, California alone found 70 percent of its city wells contaminated, and has spent more than $3 million a year pumping in water from the Colorado River to replace those of the seven city wells it shut down due to MTBE contamination. According to the 60 Minutes interview with Santa Monica officials, a single cupful of MTBE in a 5 million gallon reservoir is sufficient to render the water undrinkableThe lawyer for the city of Santa Monica has said we are “just seeing the tip of the iceberg.”

Since Santa Monica closed its wells, the state of California has identified 10,000 MTBE contaminated groundwater sites. Forty-nine other states have found it in groundwater, with twenty-one of these states having to shut down at least one of their wells due to MTBE contamination. It has been found in at least sixty-five public water supplies in New Jersey, and in one hundred public water supplies in Long Island, New York, where it has leaked from over four hundred gasoline storage tanks.

In 1995, an Italian study on the effects of MTBE showed high doses of this chemical caused three cancer types in laboratory animals: lymphoma, leukemia, and testicular cancer. Further studies between 1992 and 1998 indicated how rats and mice which were fed and forced to breathe air containing MTBE developed significant increases in tumors of the testes and liver, lymphoma, leukemia, and kidney tubules, with some animals developing cancers in multiple places.

It’s imperative that every American take whatever precautions necessary to insure the safety and cleanliness of their drinking water. To fail to act now, in light of these new revelations about MTBE contamination, is fool-hardy. You will be happy to know that the solution to MTBE is already “built-in” to the AquaRain Gravity Water Filter System. Contained within the center of our ceramic elements is a mass of highly effective silvered granulated carbon made from coconut shells which has already demonstrated a superior performance in reducing pesticides, various chemicals, chlorine, halogens, tastes and odors. High quality carbon is a recommended method of removing MTBE. So the answer is a resounding YES! The AquaRain Gravity Water Filter will adsorb the contaminant MTBE!

The sickening sewer crisis

Aging systems across the country are causing nasty–and costly–problems

By David Whitman

ATLANTA–Brenda and Mike Martin were planning to ring in the new millennium in style–but it didn’t quite work out that way. The day before New Year’s Eve, the Martins, both real-estate agents, detected a foul odor in their elegant home in the city’s affluent Buckhead neighborhood. The sewer line on their street had become partially blocked with grease from nearby restaurants, and a peek down their basement steps confirmed the worst: Human feces, sanitary napkins, and toilet paper lay sopping on the floor. Brenda, president of the influential Peachtree Park Civic Association, couldn’t rouse the mayor or a cleanup crew as the holiday neared. So on New Year’s Eve, Mike–clad in hiking boots, plastic gardening gloves, and a mask–mopped the raw sewage toward the basement sump pump, threw down cat litter to clump the debris, and shoveled it into a wheelbarrow. That night, as the Martins and their two daughters huddled in front of their TV to watch the ball drop in Times Square, they could hear rats from the sewers burrowing inside the walls.

It sounds like the makings of a camp horror flick. But the Martins’ tale is a real-life nightmare that happens more often than many Americans might imagine. Each year in the United States, sewers back up in basements an estimated 400,000 times, and municipal sanitary sewers overflow on 40,000 occasions, dumping potentially deadly pathogens into the nation’s streets, waterways, and beach areas. The 1972 Clean Water Act prompted cities to dramatically expand their wastewater-treatment facilities and reduce raw sewage discharges. But in recent decades, federal funding for sewer systems has dwindled, even as the demand for wastewater treatment has grown. Aging sewer systems are now faltering around the nation, endangering the health of hundreds of thousands of Americans and creating hefty repair bills for municipalities and consumers. In some small cities and towns, sewer overflow control projects, financed mostly with local dollars, are proving to be the most expensive public-works programs ever. Later this month, at President Clinton’s directive, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose new rules expanding cities’ obligations to eliminate all but the most unavoidable sanitary-sewer overflows.

See no evil . . . For decades, local officials and voters have tended to treat sewers as an “out of sight, out of mind” problem. Playwright Henrik Ibsen captured the politics of denial over a century ago in An Enemy of the People, the story of a doctor who warns that the town’s popular public baths are a health menace in need of wastewater treatment–only to be denounced by the mayor and local citizenry for embarrassing the town and for advocating higher sewer rates.

In a case of life imitating art, U.S. News has found that municipal sewers, with little public recognition, are overflowing or breaking down with disturbing regularity, releasing mega amounts of pollutants. In the past eight months, San Diego has had a raw sewage spill of 34 million gallons and small-town Fort Pierce, Fla., was hit with 8 million gallons. Even these huge overflows are dwarfed by the squalid slumgullions that combined sewer systems unleash during rainstorms. Some 150 million people rely on sewer systems that use separate pipelines for rainwater and sanitary-sewer waste. But an additional 42 million people in 900 communities depend on older, combined sewer systems, which commingle storm water and sewage into one pipe during rainstorms. A downpour last month prompted the Milwaukee sewer authority to discharge more than a billion gallons of raw sewage into area waterways and Lake Michigan. All told, the EPA projects that combined sewer overflows (or CSOs) discharge 1.2 trillion gallons of sewage and storm water a year–enough to keep Niagara Falls roaring for 18 days.

Urban sprawl. Apart from agricultural runoff, no pollution source sullies more miles of the nation’s rivers than municipal treatment plants. Sewer discharges routinely close thousands of acres of shellfish beds to harvesting, and, in city after city, overflows are common. Since President Clinton took office, his former hometown of Little Rock has suffered over 600 reported sanitary-sewer overflows, including cases where sewage coursed through city parks and golf courses. Nationwide, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group estimates that municipal sewage plants released 51 million pounds of toxic chemicals into public waters in 1997, the latest year for which statistics are available.

A draft report for the EPA obtained by U.S. News finds that more than a million Americans become ill each year just from sanitary-sewer overflows (SSOs). Raw sewage contains bacteria like E. coli, viruses, helminths (intestinal worms), and parasites. Most of those stricken suffer stomach cramps and diarrhea, but untreated sewage also spreads life-threatening ailments like cholera and infectious hepatitis. In 1998, a few miles from George W. Bush’s governor’s mansion in Austin, Texas, more than 1,400 residents of the Brushy Creek area became ill with gastroenteritis after 167,000 gallons of untreated sewage spilled into the creek. About 135 residents contracted cryptosporidiosis, the ailment that killed 54 Milwaukee residents after that city’s water supply was poisoned by the parasite in 1993. In 1998, water-borne pollution forced health authorities to close beaches or to put out advisories more than 7,000 times–with sewage spills accounting for as many as half of the shutdowns.

Sewer stoppages and pipeline collapses are rising at a rate of 3 percent a year, according to a survey by the Civil Engineering Research Foundation. And a 1999 report from the American Society of Civil Engineers indicates that the nation’s 500,000-plus miles of sewer lines are 33 years old on average. The Water Infrastructure Network, an umbrella coalition of water and public-works associations, estimates that municipal governments (read: ratepayers) will have to cough up an extra $12 billion a year for capital improvements in the next two decades to replace aging pipes and to meet EPA guidelines. (Read their report.) In tiny Marlette, Mich., the cost per household to fix the sewers may exceed $12,000, and in Lynchburg, Va., and Wheeling, W.Va., residents could eventually be tapped for more than $15,000 per household.

In the meantime, city dwellers with sewage backups have been forced to dig into their own wallets. The Martins spent $4,000 in 1997 to replace a 50-foot house pipe connecting to the city sewer line, but the backups continued. Last October, they spotted their first sewer rat–a Norway rat the size of a small cat–when it scampered across the buffed oak floor of the breakfast room. Ten traps placed that evening in the basement yielded 10 more rats the following morning.

Another resident, chiropractor Henry Jacobs, had to close his holistic health education center after incurring nearly $25,000 in damages from 600 gallons of raw sewage that poured into the facility after grease from a nearby restaurant blocked his sewer line in January 1999. When Jacobs first discovered the mess, he nearly retched: A gurgling geyser was surging out of the toilet, leaving excrement on the walls.

Playing catch-up. After decades of neglect, Atlanta officials expect to spend more than $1 billion to upgrade the aging sewer system. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, cave-ins in antiquated sewer lines killed bystanders in a parking lot there, and one collapse even claimed a hook-and-ladder firetruck. While Atlanta’s raw sewage discharges are declining, the overflows have been so bad that many manhole covers have popped, at times creating fecal fountains. The state environmental agency has issued stiff penalties, fining the city more than $23 million since November 1992 for delays in building treatment facilities and for a series of sewer overflows.

In 1970, prior to the passage of the Clean Water Act, roughly 40 percent of people served by municipal wastewater systems did not receive any sewage treatment, and Manhattan’s West Side sent 300 million gallons of raw sewage a day into the Hudson River. The 1972 Clean Water Act helped double the number of people served by municipal sewer systems–from 85 million in 1972 to 173 million in 1996–at the same time that it cut pollution from sewage by 40 percent.

Still, with each new spate of sewer reforms, relieved taxpayers and city officials have tended to declare victory prematurely. More than 40 years ago, Aldous Huxley wrote an essay heralding the efficacy of Los Angeles’s Hyperion sewage-treatment plant. Just before the onset of World War II, Huxley and Thomas Mann took a stroll on a deserted California beach near the future plant, and, as the two famous novelists chatted about Shakespeare, Huxley noticed that “as far as the eye could reach . . . the sand was covered with small whitish objects, like dead caterpillars.” The caterpillars turned out to be condoms–10 million of them by Huxley’s estimate–which had come in with the tide after being discharged from a Los Angeles sewage outfall. When Huxley returned 15 years later, he found the new treatment plant had eliminated the “unspeakable jetsam” and sunbathers splashed in the surf. The problem of “keeping a great city clean without polluting a river or fouling the beaches . . . has been triumphantly solved,” Huxley declared. Not quite.

Canada E.Coli Death Toll May Rise to 18

TORONTO (Reuters) – The death toll from an outbreak of deadly E. coli bacteria that swept through a small Ontario town last month may be raised to 18, Canadian health officials said on Tuesday.

Health officials said they were investigating four more deaths that could be linked to the E. coli outbreak in Walkerton, Ontario, a farming community of 5,000 about 200 kilometres (125 miles) northwest of Toronto.

Ontario’s chief coroner said four more deaths had been reported to the provincial police, raising the total number of possible E. coli-related deaths in the Walkerton area to 18.

Police added the deaths of an elderly man and woman as well as a 25-year-old man in Walkerton to their investigation. The death of an elderly man in nearby Hanover is also being looked into.

Health authorities have confirmed that at least seven people died from water contaminated by E. coli bacteria during the epidemic, which began in late May and affected about 2,000 people in and around Walkerton.

E. coli (Escherichia coli) is a common bacterium usually found in the intestines of humans and animals. Some strains–like the often lethal 0157 variety that hit Walkerton–can cause dangerous, even life-threatening, infections.

Officials do not yet know exactly how the deadly bug got into Walkerton’s water system but suspect heavy rains may have washed infected manure into the farming community’s wells.

Clean air, dirty water

A gasoline additive turns out to be dangerous

By Laura Tangley

It’s a classic case of good intentions gone awry. When Congress amended the Clean Air Act a decade ago, the lawmakers’ goal was to banish lung-destroying smog from the nation’s cities. But now it turns out that the chemical known as MTBE, which was subsequently added to gasoline to make the fuel burn cleaner, has actually contaminated wells that supply drinking water to tens of millions of Americans from coast to coast.

MTBE, or methyl tertiary-butyl ether, reduces toxic auto emissions by boosting the amount of oxygen in gasoline. Now present in about a third of the nation’s gas, the additive has been very effective in helping formerly smoggy cities clean up their act. But a new study, scheduled for publication next month in Environmental Science & Technology, has found that as many as 9,000 community wells in 31 states are threatened by MTBE contamination, primarily because they are located near leaking underground tanks that store gasoline. John Zogorski of the U.S. Geological Survey, one of the study’s authors, calls his team’s results “generally representative of the entire nation.”

Long-lived problem. A handful of states, including California, Maine, and New Jersey, already have plans to stop or at least reduce the use of MTBE, which has been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made a commitment to begin phasing out the additive nationwide. Specifically, EPA administrator Carol Browner has asked Congress to further amend the Clean Air Act to discourage the use of MTBE in gasoline. In addition, the agency will try to restrict the chemical under authority provided by the Toxic Substances Control Act. But both of these strategies could take years to make a dent in the MTBE content of gas. Meanwhile, scientists worry that the additive’s most likely alternative, ethanol derived from corn, has not been adequately tested for safety.

Even if MTBE were banned tomorrow, it would very likely remain a concern for many years. Because the compound degrades slowly and moves easily over long distances, Zogorski believes that past MTBE leaks and spills will threaten water-supply wells until at least the year 2010.

Other scientists have taken the offensive. At this week’s meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco, dozens of researchers will present papers at a four-day symposium devoted entirely to MTBE–including novel strategies for getting the poison out of drinking water. One study suggests that simply adding oxygen to contaminated groundwater encourages native bacteria to degrade the pollutant.

Investigation of E. coli outbreak continues

WALKERTON, ONTARIO — Canadian police and health officials are still investigating how wells in this town 90 miles west of Toronto were infected with E. coli, which has sickened hundreds and killed at least five people. Police also are investigating whether local officials broke laws by failing to report water problems immediately.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s environmental minister, Dan Newman, announced new regulations that would require all of the province’s municipalities to use accredited water-testing labs and to inform the government when hiring a new, private testing firm, according to The Associated Press.

Water plants also would be reviewed and certified every three years, and the ministry would clarify procedures requiring laboratories to notify health officials, city officials and the environment ministry of irregularities.

As of Sunday, the number of people getting sick from the bacteria found in the water supply has decreased. However, officials said several of the hospitalized patients may still die.

E. coli, spread through human and animal feces, may have entered Walkerton’s wells in flooding that followed a storm May 12. City officials said that a chlorinating system on one of the town’s two main wells was malfunctioning for weeks before residents started getting sick.

A provincial water agency took control of the local water utility last week after it was disclosed that the utility knew as early as May 18 about the contamination. A boil-water order was issued for Walkerton May 21 after residents reported illnesses.

One class action lawsuit already has been filed, accusing local officials of failing to promptly notify Walkerton residents of the contamination.

Two nearby communities, Wingham and Freelton, also have found E. coli contamination in water supplies. In Wingham, the contamination was found in a school, which has since been shut down. Freelton was placed under a boil-water order after traces of the bacteria was found in its water.

However, neither case apparently is linked to the Walkerton contamination.

Trucks carrying bottled water moved through Walkerton Sunday, with volunteers carrying the donated cases to doorsteps in some areas.

Copyright 2000 National Trade Publications, Inc. 

Death Came in the Water

E. coli breaks out at a N.Y. county fair

BY AMANDA SPAKE

At first, the illness was a mystery. The Washington County Fair in Greenwich, N.Y., was great fun, but two days later, the Aldrich girls had become feverish, irritable, and lethargic. Their doctor sent them to a local hospital and Kaylea, 2, seemed to improve. But 3-year-old Rachel grew sicker. On Friday, September 3, she was rushed to the pediatric intensive care unit at Albany Medical Center Hospital, where she and her sister were found to be infected with the deadly E. coli 0157:H7 bacterium from drinking water at the fair.

At Albany, Wayne and Lori Aldrich watched helplessly as Rachel’s heart stopped, cutting off oxygen to her brain. Her kidneys failed and she was not able to breathe on her own. Late Saturday afternoon, September 4, on the day she was to celebrate her fourth birthday, Rachel died in her parents’ arms.

Now, the Aldriches sit by Kaylea’s bedside as she remains in serious condition, on kidney dialysis like 10 other children who went to the fair. They are among over 600 people thought to be infected with the bacterium. If confirmed, this would be one of the largest E. coli 0157:H7 outbreaks on record. The great risk now, according to the New York State Department of Health, is further person-to-person spread of the organism.

How did a supposedly safe drinking-water system become the source of a major outbreak? The health department’s theory is that a torrential rainstorm in late August washed manure-laden water from cattle exhibits into loose soil around an auxiliary well at the fairgrounds. This contaminated surface water mixed with the well’s usual source, a ground-water aquifer, which had fallen low because of this summer’s drought. Unlike other wells supplying the fair, the auxiliary well was not chlorinated. Once the well was in use, contaminated water was pumped to food and drink vendors. Two vendors, one of whom has developed symptoms of infection, may have taken water to another New York fair.

But the Greenwich fiasco points up a greater problem: Treatment and monitoring of drinking water cannot be taken for granted. Kristine Smith, spokesperson for the New York Department of Health, says that since the fairgrounds’ water system was considered private, only limited treatment and testing was mandated by the state, and the system was not subject to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

But J. Charles Fox, assistant administrator for the Office of Water at the EPA, is not so sure. “This seems to be what we call a transient noncommunity water system,” says Fox: It is a system that serves the public on an intermittent basis. Smith says the EPA is wrong because the system “does not operate for 60 days a year”–though, as the Washington County Fair office confirms, it serves thousands of people at different events throughout the year.

Higher standards. Upcoming EPA rules will probably require disinfection of ground-water systems like this one, Fox says. And the EPA has been tightening standards for all water systems since renewal of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1996.

But states don’t always enforce testing requirements, and water-systems managers don’t always report violations to the state or the federal government. A recent draft of an EPA audit of 1,800 public water systems and 27 state programs shows monitoring of water quality and reporting of violations are, in Fox’s words, “exceptionally weak.” While many of the infractions identified in the audit are inconsequential, about one third involve failure to report excessive coliform bacteria, such as E. coli, or failure to treat water for bacterial contaminates. Fox says that “there is nothing in this that should make people feel less confident about their water.” Yet EPA studies show that the U.S. drinking water system “suffers from long-term neglect and serious deterioration.” The cost for fixing the problem is an estimated $12.1 billion–just to meet existing EPA standards, not the more stringent upcoming regulations.

Within the next month, everyone on a water system with more than 25 customers should receive in the mail his first “Consumer Confidence Report.” The reports are now required by law to inform consumers about microbial and chemical contaminants and any violations of EPA regulations by the water supplier–at least those that have been reported. But as the outbreak at the Washington County Fairgrounds shows, it is not what we know about our water that may be most significant, but what we don’t know!

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