WASHINGTON – The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments approved recommendations Wednesday to improve public health and drinking water.
They included better dissemination of information to the public when there is a drinking water problem and the coordination of a more effective regional response.
The recommendations apply to water utilities, the public health community and local governments and are strictly voluntary, said Michael C. Rogers, city administrator and deputy mayor for operations for the District.
All 22 COG board members present voted for the recommendations. There are 28 board members.
But William E. Hanna Jr., board chairman and a member of the Montgomery County Council, requested further details on the problem and the recommendations.
“Up until this point, I did not think about water,” Hanna said. “Are you saying that our … major water treatment systems cannot deal with the problem?”
Hanna also expressed concern that the recommendations might create unnecessary public concern.
“You’ve warned me [of a potential problem]. What do I do from here?” he asked.
Responded Dr. Susan Allan, health director for Arlington County, “Go home, turn on the faucet and have a nice drink of water.”
Rogers said the recommendations were not an “absolute cure,” but “containment.”
Allan said the recommendations aim to enhance regional communication and public information.
“There is a level of hysteria in the public right now,” she said, “particularly among those groups most affected” when drinking water is contaminated.
They include anyone with a weakened immune system, she said: infants, the elderly and those who have tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Concerns stem from a December 1993 boil-water incident in parts of the District of Columbia and Northern Virginia. The Environmental Protection Agency ordered residents of those areas to boil tap water before drinking it because it could have contained a harmful parasite called cryptosporidium.
The incident occurred at the Dalecarlia water treatment plant in Northwest.
This led last November to a COG-sponsored regional conference on public health and drinking water, where the recommendations were first discussed.
“COG felt that emergency response coordination was not as good as it could have been,” said Karl Berger, an environmental planner at COG.
The conference was largely funded by an EPA grant.
George Rizzo, a regional EPA official who monitors the safety of area drinking water, praised COG for making the recommendations.
“You’re always dealing with the issues of, `Why should we do something if there’s no regulation?’ ” Rizzo said. “But here, this is what’s been agreed upon.” – 30 –