April 2007, Vol. 19, No.4


Sanitation Named Greatest ‘Medical Milestone’

In a January poll of more than 11,000 British Medical Journal readers, sanitation beat out competitors such as computers, vaccines, and anesthesia to be named the greatest medical achievement since 1840.

In total, 15.8% of the readers’ votes went to sanitation, making it the greatest medical milestone in the past 167 years, according to poll results on the British Medical Journal Web site. Antibiotics came in second with 14.5% of the votes, and anesthesia was third with 13.9%. The London-based journal publishes scientific studies, papers, and educational articles.

As a supplement to the poll, the journal asked experts in the field to provide their views. Johan P. Mackenbach, a professor of public health at Erasmus Medical College (Rotterdam, Netherlands), wrote on the merits of water and wastewater management.

In “Sanitation: Pragmatism Works,” published in January, Mackenbach says that “new sewage disposal and water supply systems in the 1800s revolutionised public health in Europe.” He gives a brief history of Europe’s road to clean water and sanitation, noting Edwin Chadwick, who played a significant role in public health. Chadwick was not in the medical or engineering fields, but as Mackenbach notes, he created the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act and solved problems related to poor urban drainage.

Mackenbach also references “passive protection,” such as wastewater treatment, and its benefits to health.

As Mackenbach explained to Water Environment & Technology in an e-mail interview, “Often a distinction is made between ‘health protection’ — which involves removing health risks from the environment by general measures like supplying clean drinking water, improving vehicle safety, or adding iodine to salt — and ‘health promotion’ — which often involves attempts at behaviour change by measures like health education, e.g., on the health risks of smoking or [fattening] food. Sanitation was very successful because it offered ‘passive’ protection, and did not require active behaviour change [e.g., by cooking water before drinking it],” Mackenbach explained.

To read Mackenbach’s paper, see www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/334/suppl_1/s17. To read others’ papers on sanitation, see www.bmj.com/content/vol334/suppl_1/index.dtl.

U.S. EPA To Examine Condition of Nation’s Lakes

More than 900 lakes in the United States will be under the microscope during the next 3 years.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is embarking on a 3-year study to determine the state of America’s lakes. The Survey of the Nation’s Lakes is the first-ever attempt to assess real-world conditions by studying 909 lakes, ponds, and reservoirs whose profiles are representative of all lakes in the United States.

The survey, according to an EPA news release, will

  • determine the ecology of the lakes and the factors which influence their condition;
  • stimulate and implement ideas within all levels of government — federal, state, regional, and local;
  • build state and tribal capacity for monitoring and analyzing lake water quality data;
  • collect a set of lake data for better management of lakes; and
  • develop baseline information to evaluate progress.

Survey samples will be taken from natural and manmade freshwater lakes, ponds, and reservoirs this summer. Bodies of water included in the survey will be a minimum area of 4 ha (10 ac) in area and at least 990 mm (39 in.) deep.

Researchers will look at water chemical quality, turbidity, color, conditions of shoreline habitat, and pathogen indicators.

Other conditions also will be measured. Researchers will use the same sampling techniques among all lakes to provide uniform results and permit comparisons across the country.

For more information about the survey, see epa.gov/owow/lakes/lakessurvey.

U.S. EPA Helps Farmers Turn Livestock Waste Into Wealth

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its partners released guidance in January designed to help farmers manage livestock waste and boost farm earnings while reducing greenhouse gases. The guidance provides a standardized method that will enable farm operators and investors to compare the effectiveness of methane recovery systems.

According to an EPA news release, the biogas produced from livestock manure can be more than 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, so capturing biogas provides significant environmental benefits.

EPA anticipates that farmers and project developers can benefit financially from using biogas for onsite electricity generation or delivery to a local electric utility.

EPA estimates that methane recovery systems are feasible at about 7000 dairy and swine operations in the United States. In 2005, about 110 such systems were operational or under construction, and another 80 were in the planning stages.

The standardized guidance was developed jointly by EPA’s AgStar program, the Association of State Energy Research and Technology Transfer Institutions (Washington, D.C.), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. AgStar is a voluntary program that encourages the use of methane recovery systems on dairy and swine farms.

For more information, see epa.gov/agstar/resources/protocol.html.

President Bush Orders Agencies to Conserve Water

On Jan. 24, U.S. President George W. Bush issued an executive order to federal agencies to strengthen federal environmental, energy, and transportation management. In the order, all federal agencies are called on to operate in ways which are most efficient and sustainable for the environment.

The executive order contains a list of goals for agencies, including the goal of increasing water conservation intensity by 2% annually through 2015, according to a White House news release.

Beginning in fiscal year 2008, the order calls for agencies to “reduce water consumption intensity, relative to the baseline of the agency’s water consumption in fiscal year 2007, through life-cycle cost-effective measures by 2 percent annually through the end of fiscal year 2015 or 16 percent by the end of fiscal year 2015.”

To read the executive order, see www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/01/20070124-2.html.