News Briefs: EPA Proposal Would Change Post-Nuclear Emergency Water Contamination Levels

In this week’s news briefs, people are divided over an EPA guideline that would increase the radioactive contamination levels allowed in drinking water for a temporary period following a disaster, and Massachusetts utilities are forced to tap into emergency water resources to deal with drought.
News Briefs: EPA Proposal Would Change Post-Nuclear Emergency Water Contamination Levels

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The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing new guidelines that would temporarily allow radioactive contamination in drinking water beyond safety limits in the wake of a nuclear emergency.

Public comments are still being evaluated and the agency is expected to release a final document sometime this year, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. The EPA has said that its normal radiation safety limits — based on presumed exposure over the course of decades — can be relaxed for a brief period of time following an emergency without increasing the risk of public harm.

There have been opponents. The New York attorney general’s office, regarding a possible accident at the Indian Point nuclear power plant 24 miles north of New York City, said the proposal “would potentially allow millions of New York residents to ingest drinking water containing concentration … well in excess of what has been considered to pose an acceptable risk.”

It has received support as well. Kevin Morley, the security and preparedness program manager for the American Water Works Association, said it’s a “reasonable approach” during times when “it is not an everyday, business-as-usual situation.”

Source: Wall Street Journal

Massachusetts Utilities Combat Drought Conditions with Emergency Water Sources
Western utilities aren’t the only ones dealing with drought. According to an article in the Boston Globe, water levels in reservoirs in areas of Massachusetts have fallen to the point where many utilities are tapping into emergency supplies from other sources.

For example, last week, officials in Worcester and Ashland activated emergency connections to draw water from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA), which provides water to Boston and other municipalities in the eastern part of the state. Other communities are considering similar steps.

“A lot of systems are really feeling the stress,” Frederick Laskey, executive director of the MWRA, told the Boston Globe.

Some communities, which normally draw only a portion of their supply from the MWRA, have increased that use. Demand from those communities is up 38 percent this year. MWRA’s main reservoir has dropped to its lowest mark in more than a decade, but officials say it is so large that it could withstand several years of drought, even with communities’ demand for emergency supplies.

Source: Boston Globe

Pathogens in Water Systems Tied to Health Care Costs
A study in the Journal of Public Health Policy suggests that pathogens in public water systems have contributed to rising health care costs in recent years.

Researchers at Tufts University reviewed data on 617,291 cases of Medicare beneficiaries treated between 1991 and 2006 for “opportunistic” pathogens that cause infections and can be found in drinking water, showers, hot tubs, and swimming pools. They estimated a cost of $600 million per year to treat the infections over the 15-year study period, which could rise to $2 billion annually at the current rate. Researchers concluded that infections could be tied to increasing antibiotic resistance, but that many could be prevented with improved disinfection and surveillance techniques for water systems. They noted that U.S. drinking water remains relatively safe for healthy segments of the population.

“The Flint water crisis revealed many unsolved social, environmental, and public health problems for U.S. drinking water,” said Dr. Elena Naumova, a Tufts professor involved in the study, in a press release. “Unfortunately, water testing for pathogens is not done routinely. … Well-controlled, experimental studies of the influence of microbial ecology, disinfectant type, pipe materials, and water age on opportunistic pathogen occurrence and persistence are needed in order to establish their relationships to drug resistance.”

Source: United Press International


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