ARCHIVE SITE - Last updated Jan. 19, 2017. Please visit www.NACWA.org for the latest NACWA information.
October 17, 2014
CDC Information on Ebola Virus in Wastewater Forthcoming (*New Summary Information Added, 5:00 pm Eastern)
With two nurses from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas now confirmed to be infected with the Ebola virus, questions continue to be asked by wastewater utilities about proper waste disposal procedures at hospitals and other contaminated sites – and the risks to collection systems and treatment plants workers. NACWA requested an update from EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week about guidance that is being prepared for utilities, and was informed that a draft has been prepared and is currently being reviewed by both agencies. The interim guidance document is expected to be released next week. The CDC has indicated that the guidance will provide information for utility workers that may handle untreated sewage from hospitals treating Ebola patients, including information about the Ebola virus and proper personal protective equipment and hygiene. However, the CDC also indicated that they do not have precise information for many of the questions that utilities may have about transmission of the virus in wastewater and the environment.
NACWA member agency the City of Dallas Water Utilities has informed the Association that Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital handled all Ebola patient body fluid discharges and waste as hazardous medical waste, bagging it for offsite disposal/incineration. Other NACWA members have recommended to their hospitals that any Ebola patient waste be disinfected before disposal in the sewer system. Although the Water Research Foundation’s statement last week states that “researchers believe that Ebola survives in water for only a matter of minutes,” utility workers have still expressed concern about the ability of the virus to survive in sewage – rather than pure water – for longer periods. Some utilities have expressed concern that even if hospitals are using proper disposal procedures, infected people could still introduce the virus to the sewer system before being hospitalized. NACWA has asked the CDC about this possibility and will provide any information received to members. In the meantime, the usual precaution of personal protective equipment should be used by all workers that may contact untreated wastewater.
*Although there is limited data on the fate and transport of Ebola in wastewater collection systems, the development of protective precautions is essential.
During a conference call organized by the Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, VA.) on Oct. 16, a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shared that CDC has prepared and is conducting an internal review of an interim guidance. The guidance, Interim Guidance for Workers Handling Untreated Sewage from Ebola Cases in the United States, will address basic hygiene practices and personal protective equipment (PPE) use and disposal actions that should be taken.
Specifically this guidance will provide guidance and protocols for:
CDC stated that this review would be expedited and indicated that guidance could be released as soon as late October. As CDC is the lead federal agency for Ebola containment and prevention, the best ongoing resource for information is www.cdc.gov/ebola.
In the meantime, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has some general guidance available on workplace safety and health related to Ebola at www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/ebola.
NACWA will communicate any updates as soon as CDC releases the guidance or any new information becomes available. NACWA will also be working in an effort to further expedite CDC’s timeframe and ensure that CDC protocols call for hospitals and other institutions discharging Ebola-contaminated waste to notify their sewer authority prior to discharge.
NACWA filed a brief this week with EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) in support of a utility challenge to a federal discharge permit that forcibly included satellite collection systems as co-permittees with a regional wastewater treatment facility. The brief argues that EPA Region 1’s efforts to include the satellite systems in the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit as co-permittees – against the wishes of both the satellites and the treatment agency – are illegal and contrary to the traditional permitting process. NACWA points out that satellite collection system co-permittees are not covered by the NPDES program, arguing that the approach pursued by EPA in this case would fundamentally change the structure of NPDES permitting in a way that is not authorized by the Clean Water Act (CWA).
The brief is part of an appeal filed by NACWA member utility the Upper Blackstone Water Pollution Abatement District and a number of towns in Massachusetts to a permit. The legal arguments being advanced by EPA Region 1 are not only unsupported, but also represent a dangerous interpretation of EPA’s authority under the CWA that could have negative consequences if used by the Agency for permitting purposes in other parts of the country. NACWA is participating in the appeal to help challenge the Region’s flawed co-permittee concept and highlight the importance of preserving a flexible, local approach to addressing satellite systems.
NACWA participated in a stakeholder meeting this week organized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), the agency charged with implementing most of the conservation investment programs administered by the USDA. NRCS Chief Jason Weller facilitated the discussion and provided updates on key implementation milestones for programs authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill. Specifically, the Chief reported that full proposals are currently under review for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program with final proposals likely to be selected by mid-November. He also relayed that he expects the selection process to be very competitive as the agency is evaluating over $1 billion worth of requests for only $400 million of available funding. Chief Weller also stated that the agency will seek to negotiate with applicants to ensure that worthy proposals are able to be funded at some level, potentially short of the full amount of money requested, so that the agency can spread the limited resources as far as possible.
NACWA submitted a letter Oct. 16 to EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) requesting a meeting as part of the OIG’s current evaluation into EPA’s consent decree program for municipal sewer systems. The Association received an immediate positive response from OIG with an offer to meet, and is working on scheduling a meeting.
As reported in last week’s Clean Water Current, OIG has begun an investigation into the effectiveness of EPA’s municipal wet weather enforcement efforts. NACWA’s letter highlights the Association’s significant expertise on consent decree issues and outlines the important perspective that NACWA can provide EPA during the investigation. The letter also encourages OIG to take a more holistic view when evaluating the “success” of EPA’s enforcement program, noting that OIG should evaluate not only environmental benefits but also the economic and social impacts of consent decree programs on local communities. NACWA will report on additional developments.
NACWA, the Water Environment Federation (WEF), and the American Public Works Association (APWA) have reached a preliminary agreement with INDA (the trade association of the nonwoven fabrics industry) on how to move forward with developing new flushability guidelines for wipes and improving consumer awareness of proper wipe disposal. The agreement is the culmination of a technical workgroup formed by the groups and funded in part by NACWA’s Targeted Action Fund (TAF). The associations held a conference call this week to refine the goals of the upcoming work in these two areas and the processes that will be used. Development of the new flushability guidelines will help to ensure that any wipes labeled “flushable” will break up rapidly enough in the sewer system to not cause clogs and other problems with equipment. Currently, wipes that are not designed to be flushed, such as baby wipes, usually do not have package labeling with a prominent “Do Not Flush” logo or other instructions for disposal. The associations plan to promote better labeling as a first line of consumer education, with potential for a broader consumer education effort on proper disposal of wipes and other products. It is anticipated that the formal agreement will be completed next week. At that time, NACWA will provide more details in a Member Update.
Though Congress is on recess and members are back in their districts campaigning, NACWA continues to reach out to their staffs in D.C. to discuss key policy matters of concern to our members. This week, NACWA met with staff for Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) to discuss wet weather related issues including integrated planning and affordability. Both Senators represent states in which clean water utilities are facing steep wet weather challenges and pressures on their ratepayers to pay for infrastructure investments. These offices are interested in NACWA’s legislative proposals to address these challenges, including proposals that provide more tools for wet weather management and for implementing EPA’s integrated planning initiative.
The NACWA Stormwater Management Committee held a web-based committee meeting on Wednesday to update members on EPA activity since its decision to defer the national stormwater rulemaking effort, discuss MS4 second generation permit trends, and share information about a legal white paper NACWA is preparing on stormwater fee issues. Chris Pomeroy of Aqualaw explored a series of prevailing trends and common permit provisions as EPA turns its focus to strengthening local stormwater programs in the absence of a national rulemaking. Trends cited included water quality standard compliance litigation, adequate progress provisions, and TMDL [total maximum daily load] Planning. Pomeroy offered a host of strategies for negotiating permits, especially stressing an MEP (Maximum Extent Practicable) analysis.
The October 27 deadline to reserve a hotel room at the discounted rate for NACWA’s National Clean Water Law Seminar is just around the corner – make you plans to attend today! This year’s program, scheduled for November 19 – 21 at the Loews Don CeSar in sunny St. Pete, Florida, promises a timely and informative examination of the hottest legal and regulatory topics impacting clean water utilities. Highlights of the Seminar will include a keynote address from Ellen Gilinksy, the senior policy advisor in EPA’s Office of Water; a panel of senior federal and state water regulators discussing the most important current regulatory issues; and, a group of veteran clean water practitioners examining the successes, failures, and future challenges of the Clean Water Act as it reaches middle age. Other topics to be addressed include integrated planning, stormwater, green infrastructure, and wet weather enforcement developments.
Designed for both clean water attorneys and utility managers, this conference is a “can’t miss” event! Continuing Legal Education (CLE) credit will be available, with a number of approvals already received from specific states. A complete CLE list, along with a program agenda, hotel information, and conference registration, is available on NACWA’s website. Be sure to join your clean water colleagues – both lawyers and non-lawyers alike – for some fun, sun, and a great learning experience in Florida!
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