148038 Fire and water: Environmental health challenges of the Zumwalt brush fire

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Bryan J. Alsip, MD, MPH , San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, City of San Antonio, San Antonio, TX
In the early morning hours of 26 December 2006, an immense brush pile caught fire on private property near the city limits of San Antonio, Texas. What was initially thought to be a manageable mulch fire, rapidly evolved into a wider local environmental problem. The immediate and continued threat to the public health of thousands of local residents resulted from the production of significant quantities of smoke and ash over a period of months. After the state regulatory agency moved in, mobilizing resources to extinguish the fire, it was discovered that the initial operations and water use posed another threat of contamination to the Edwards Aquifer, which represents the sole source of drinking water for over 1.4 million people living in Bexar County. A consensus approach had to be developed to eliminate the smoke hazard while preventing significant contamination of such an important water supply. This situation created a number of considerable environmental and public health challenges including: inter-jurisdictional responsibilities; risk communication and education of the public; characterization of health threats from air particulate matter and water contaminants; and the unique benefits and vulnerabilities of a karst aquifer supplying the water needs of a large urban population.

Learning Objectives:
Discuss the public health challenges of an environmental health threat Describe the adverse health threats posed by a large brush fire to an urban population List priority issues for risk communication with the public and the media for an environmental health threat Recognize the multitude of media outlets that affect public health messages including both the press and the public use of the internet Articulate the additional vulnerability to the public's health from the potential contamination of large groundwater systems

Keywords: Environmental Health, Public Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Any relevant financial relationships? No
Any institutionally-contracted trials related to this submission?

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.