U.S. Recreational Waters
by Piper Wilson
The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, has designed a Recreational Water Criteria program designed to protect swimmers from illnesses due to exposure to pathogens in recreational waters.
Since EPA issued its quality criteria over 20 years ago, there have been major scientific advances, particularly in the areas of molecular biology, virology and analytical chemistry. EPA believes these scientific advances need to be considered for the development of new criteria for pathogens and pathogen indicators. The EPA has conducted a significant amount of research including developing methods for measuring microbiological organisms in water and conducting epidemiologic studies to provide the scientific foundation for new criteria.
EPA’s review of available research and science has raised a sequence of significant questions that need to be answered in order for EPA to move forward. In order to address these questions, EPA has stakeholders representing the general public, public interest groups, State and local government, industry, and municipal wastewater treatment professionals. These stakeholders, based on their feedback and recommendations from the scientific community, have created a Critical Path Science Plan for Development of New or Revised Recreational Water Quality Criteria (CPSP or SciencePlan). According to the EPA and its stakeholders, ‘the purpose of the CPSP is to articulate the essential research and science that EPA willconduct between 2007 and the end of 2010 to establish the scientific foundation for new orrevised recreational water quality criteria to protect swimming in waters designated by a Statefor that use.’
A program applied by the EPA, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has implemented in order to study recreational waters is the National Epidemiological and Environmental Assessment of Recreation (NEEAR) Water. The key goal in this study is to establish a health-based relationship between indicators of fecal contamination and swimming-associated illness as measured by a variety of methods.
Another program monitoring recreational waters is The Environmental Monitoring for Public Access and Community Tracking (EMPACT) Beaches Project. This was particularly designed to recognize the characteristics of a beach environment that have a considerable impact on microbial water quality monitoring results.
The United States’ Water Quality Methods (WQS) is a method of expressing the desired condition of a water body. Such standards consist of three main elements. The first is searching for one or more designated ‘uses’ of each of the State’s waters, such as recreation or propagation of fish. The second element is based on the criteria expressed as the pollutant concentration levels representing a quality of water that supports a designated use. The last element is an anti‐degradation policy in order to protect existing uses and high quality waters. The WQS purpose is to establish the water quality goals for a specific water body, as well as serving the regulatory basis for the establishment of water quality‐ based treatment controls and strategies. States also use WQS in their beach monitoring and notification programs while examining pathogens or pathogen indicators in order to protect the recreational use of waters.
There are several human health risks obtaining to contaminants in recreational waters. EPA’s current research is based on E. coli and enterococci as indicators of, specifically, fecal contamination. Human fecal contamination poses the highest risk, however there are other sources of fecal contamination which are less studied. These further sources include poorly‐ treated or untreated human fecal waste, and non‐human sources of fecal contamination, such as from agricultural animals and wildlife in the watershed. In addition, storm water runoff in urban areas may signify a source of human and animal fecal material. Animal sources in an urban setting may include domesticated and other animals, such as geese. Symptoms of these human health risks that may arise are gastrointestinal illness, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, upper respiratory illness, rashes, eye ailments, and earaches.
The EPA will conduct at least one epidemiologic study in order to characterize the relationship at a freshwater beach that has been impacted by agricultural animal sources of fecal contamination for comparison to the relationship obtained at beaches impacted by human fecal contamination.
With studies and research being continued, the Environmental Protection Agency plays a vital role in protecting America’s recreational waters.
Water Pollution: Boil Water Warnings in the U.S.
By Shannyn Snyder
As consumers struggle with changing their bottled water consumption habits in an effort to become more environmentally friendly, numerous U.S. residents nationwide faced bacterial pollutant episodes from local water sources in just under a one-week period.
Residents of Palm Springs, Florida are dealing with their second water contamination scare in two years. Last year, well water users were told to temporarily rely on bottled water while a chemical, perchlorate, was removed from their waters. This year, it’s the bacteria E. coli, leaving the small mobile home community of mostly retirees quite concerned.
In addition, the town of Buchanan, Virginia is currently on a boil-water mandate as the local water authorities wrestle with what can be done with the persistent appearance of both E. coli and fecal coliform bacteria. Although the town’s wells are contaminated, residents are bearing the expense. Not only do they need to boil water for household use or buy supplies of bottled water, but they also must continue to pay their water bills. The well water, which is sterilized using only chlorine and does not go through a filtration plant may be polluted for the foreseeable future. Mayor Tom Middlecamp warns that the problem could persist for more than a year.
A more temporary concern is for Yampa, Colorado residents who are also being advised about the quality of their water, which is thought to have been tainted by bacteria following a water main break. Local officials warned residents that using their water could adversely affect their health by causing possible nausea or diarrhea and schools were closed for two days.
These short-lived pollutant issues are often routine, and Monroe Central schools in Indiana were also on the latest list of contaminated water concerns. Administrators were told that their water may contain coliform bacteria, and children were warned not to use drinking fountains or bathroom faucets. The county instead provided the school children with bottled water and hand sanitizer. Additionally, a water main break in Marion, Ohio caused their officials to recommend a boil-water advisory, also prompting area schools to request bottled water to be provided until the warning was over.
Other boil water advisories were lifted, such as in both Vader and Enchanted Valley, Washington, as well as Chalfont, Pennsylvania, and there was a “pre-notice” for Georgia and Florida to boil water in case of storms.
How worrisome are boil water warnings? According to Dr. James Symons in Plain Talk about Drinking Water, boil water orders were part of a 1996 U.S. regulation that required local utilities to issue the order if coliform or other bacteria were found in water.
could be a matter of safety routine or part of a serious public health warning to the community. Warnings are not the same as orders, and municipalities may merely suggest that residents boil water as a precaution during a water main break or a storm. However, an order is a more serious matter, typically arising, as in Palm Springs, because there is a very high level of found contaminant or as in the case of Buchanan, the non-point source of the pollutant has not been yet been found.
or are recommended by your local water authority to use bottled water until an advisory is lifted,
. Be sure to become familiar with your local water authority’s website, so that you can access information should you ever need to for your own water warnings. Following instructions from using bottled water to brush teeth and throwing out ice cubes could mean the difference between a small inconvenience and a serious illness.
2009. For the latest reports on Boil Water Advisories, please see our Facebook Forum.