Friday, September 09, 2005

CDC and EPA update from the Gulf

Wednesday night the Jim Lehrer NewsHour interviewed CDC Director Gerberding. I didn't learn much, but truth to tell, she was excellent: steady, matter of fact, accurate. no spin. I have been very critical of her here, but have also said she is one of the most skilled public communicators I have ever seen and she did not disappoint last night. I am not sure why it took them so long to trot her out. Just another example of their incompetence, I guess.

And the CDC information apparatus is also lumbering into action. Last night's top message (via special email to a CDC Announements listserv, p.m. dispatch September 8, 2005):
Public Health in Context: Public health must focus on physical and mental health issues among all persons affected during a disaster. A serious concern, however, is that in discussing public health it does not lead to overgeneralizations and the ultimate stigmatization of people. One important communication task is to recognize the resilience of individuals and communities and to avoid mindsets and labels that could rob people of their dignity and uniqueness.
A damn site better than FEMA and not bad on its own. There follows a recital of the major public health problems, as CDC sees it at this time.

Towards the top, injuries, especially carbon monoxide poisoning from generators, grills, camp stoves or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-buring devices in closed spaces like homes, basements, garages, or campers. Wound infections from Vibrio species, especially Vibrio vulnificus, an organism that lives in salt and brackish waters in the coastal regions. These infections typically afflict those with underlying chronic illness and can be extremely serious or fatal. Thirteen suspect cases have been reported. These infections are not contagious.

Sporadic clusters of gastrointestinal disease are also being reported. This is not unexpected, given exposure to contaminated water and the close and crowded conditions of the shelters. These are no epidemic disease outbreaks, nor does past experience in floods and other natural disasters indicate they are likely.

Relief and recovery workers are being counseled to wear adequate protective gear to avoid injury and prevent contaminated water from splashing into their eyes and mouth. Details here.

Meanwhile EPA, too, is starting to report out. Still no word on whether they are included in the White House Task Force. Yesterday we reported that the usually reliable Inside EPA newsletter said they weren't and we have seen nothing to contradict this beyond a very early report from the White House's Professional Liar Scott McLellan's statement they would be.

Here is an excerpt from today's assessment on the EPA Hurricane Response website:
Drinking Water Assessment – EPA estimates the number of water systems affected is 73 in AL, 555 in MS and 469 in LA. In AL, many water systems were disabled or impaired by loss of electrical power. Three systems in AL currently have boil water advisories. Two of these systems are awaiting sample results. The other system is running on emergency power. EPA continues its assessment of damage to local drinking water systems in MS, and provides technical assistance to help restore safe drinking water to those systems. EPA has two mobile laboratories in MS assisting the state Department of Public Health in drinking water analysis. The mobile labs became operational on 9/8. Boil water notices issued have increased from 404 to 464 water systems in MS. Samples from these systems will be analyzed for total fecal coliform bacteria before the systems restore service . EPA is assisting the LA Department of Health and Hospitals in assessing drinking water and has deployed 35 more EPA personnel to LA this week. There are approximately 378 drinking water systems that are not in operation in LA with another 48 systems on a boil water notice. In LA, one EPA mobile lab is currently testing drinking water samples and providing analytical data. An additional mobile lab is expected to arrive this week in LA.


Flood Water Analysis – At a news conference with CDC on 9/7, Administrator Johnson released initial sampling results of New Orleans flood waters from six locations. Preliminary information indicates that counts for E. Coli in sampled areas greatly exceed EPA's recommended levels for contact. Also lead concentrations exceeded drinking water action levels which would be a concern if the flood water was a child's source of drinking water. Given these preliminary results, emergency response personnel and the public should avoid direct contact with standing water.
Update (9/9/05, 11 pm EDST): The Society for Environmental Journalists has just released an Op Ed decrying EPA's failure to provide information in their possession identifying the chemical contaminants found in New Orleans floodwaters.