University of Washington School of Public Health

UW SPH News: SPH Students Write Coastal Water Resolution for American Public Health Association

SPH Students Write Coastal Water Resolution for American Public Health Association

11/07/2012
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San Francisco, Nov. 1, 2012 -- The American Public Health Association, at its annual meeting in San Francisco this week, voted to adopt a comprehensive approach to protecting coastal water quality by modernizing the nation's Clean Water Act, which is 40 years old this year. The resolution was written by six University of Washington public health graduate students.

The resolution calls on Congress to better fund waste-water treatment programs to adequately remove pollutants not eliminated by primary and secondary treatment, and to support the Environmental Protection Agency's adoption of a coastal watershed approach to protecting water quality from both point source pollution (such as factory effluent) and non-point source pollution (such as car exhaust settling on coastal waters).

The 1972 Clean Water Act was intended to restore contaminated water and prevent additional pollution. As the resolution notes, however, while "the health of coastal waters improved dramatically in the years immediately after the passage of the Clean Water Act, it has not been amended since 1987. Thus, the Act does not account for all current causes of pollution, and many of the regulations are insufficiently enforced."

The students worked on the resolution as the culmination of a case study as part of their Master of Public Health (MPH) training program. The resolution was adopted in a unanimous vote by the 202-member APHA governing council on October 30.

"We were very happy to be able to bring the important issue of coastal water protections to the APHA," said Peter Blackburn, who graduated with his MPH in June. We learned a great deal in our class about how various kinds of pollution are threatening the waterways surrounding the United States, and realized there were policy solutions to that problem. Now is a critical time for this policy, given declining funding and recent court rulings limiting the Clean Water Act."

Erika Fardig, another student on the team, agreed, adding, "While many of our waterways may look pristine, toxic runoff and poisonous industrial discharge pour into our coastal waters, contaminating beaches and poisoning natural treasures like Puget Sound, Chesapeake Bay, the Florida Everglades and the Gulf of Mexico."

Kate Cole, also on the authorship team, told her fellow APHA members, "Pollution damages current and future food webs. Where fish survive, their bodies concentrate toxins from the environment through bioaccumulation."

Sophia Teshome, the fourth member of the student authorship team who traveled to San Francisco to present the resolution, noted how unusual it is to get an education that includes such hands-on work. "We were lucky to have faculty members who gave us this assignment and encouraged us to bring our work forward to be judged by the full weight of the national professional organization.

The remaining two student authors are Valerie Pacino and Paula Kett.

APHA is the oldest and largest organization of public health professionals in the world, and is celebrating its 140th anniversary this year. The Association's mission is to protect all Americans, their families and their communities from preventable, serious health threats and assure community-based health promotion and disease prevention activities and preventive health services are universally accessible in the US.