Public Health lessons Learned from the Flint Water Crisis: From Lead to Legionella
Joan B. Rose holds the Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research at Michigan State University and currently leads of the Global Water Pathogens Project in partnership with UNESCO. Dr. Rose earned her B.Sc. and Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Arizona, and is an international expert in water microbiology, water quality and public health safety. She has published more than 300 manuscripts. She is the winner of the 2016 Stockholm Water Prize. She is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. Her work is focused on water quality and health. She was involved with the County Health Department during the Flint Crisis regarding Legionella.
The Flint water crisis is a reminder to all of us that that supplying water is all about public health, that the most vulnerable in our communities are the ones at greatest risk. The challenge to provide safe drinking water is a global issue, but the definition of safe water continues to evolve based on knowledge and practice. For most countries, rules state simply that drinking water should be free of constituents deleterious to human health. Historically, it was the control of fecally-associated microbial waterborne pathogens, but we are now dealing with emerging microbes that are part of the water microbiome in biofilms. In addition, disinfection by-products (DBP) in tap waters have led to a debate regarding microbiological safety versus exposure to DBPs, and the overall effectiveness of disinfectants in the distribution system. Other issues have also emerged for older distribution systems such as the leaching of lead from pipes, which is affected by disinfectant and corrosion chemistry. All Legionnaire’s disease is caused by water that is aerosolized. It is a waterborne disease. Anytime there is an outbreak, the water utility should be involved in understanding what happened but often is not. There are many lessons which can be learned from what happened in Flint. If we all do our jobs better, are more transparent and improve communication between water quality goals, engineering and public health we can return to saying the U.S. has the greatest water system in the world, but I don’t think we can say that right now.
For further information, please contact Karen O’Shaughnessy at 520-626- 4912 or by e-mail.