of viral epidemic
Treated waste water
could be increasing
the risk of viral
* Minority policy disputed 8B
By JIM SLOAN
Tribune Staff Writer
Hillsborough County is facing a
potential epidemic, a health expert
warned Wednesday, and the culprit
is virus-laden water from the coun-
ty's interim sewage treatment plants
and private septic tanks.
That warning led the Hillsbor-
ough County Commission to order
that all future interim plants be
Equipped with a special filter to help
Screen out viruses which health
authorities linked Wednesday to in-
creasing rates of viral illnesses in
Dr. F.M. Wellings, director of the
Epidemiology Research Center for
Health and Rehabilitative Services,
told the commission Wednesday that
there is a "mammoth problem" in
"I believe you are in trouble,"
Wellings said, "and I believe that
you're going to be in worse trouble
unless you do something about these
wastewater treatment plants."
Wellings claimed that effluent
from the county's interim wastewa-
ter treatment plants, much of which
Is disposed of by spray irrigation,
contains viruses that have caused a
continuing rise in Intestinal virus ill-
Another source of viruses, she
said, are "too many septic tanks in
too small an area."
The county operates interim
plants, which are built by developers
and approved by the county, and
permanent wastewater treatment
plants. Wellings's comments re-
ferred only to the interim plants.
Also, she said, tests of the city of
Tampa's wastewater treatment fa-
cility indicated no problem with vi-
Wellings' warning was echoed by
Dr. Helen Moore, assistant director
of the county's Health Department
Studies, Moore said, have shown
a steadily growing rate of viral
meningitis in Hillsborough County
since 1979, a rate that has at times
reached twice the national average.
Dr. Wellings claimed that there
"has to be a connection" between
that rate and the filtration system
now in use on most of the county's
interim treatment plants, which
screens out bacteria but not viruses.
Virus-related diseases in Pinellas
County, which has advanced treat-
ment process, have not increased,
Disposing of treated effluent by
spraying it on the ground, known as
spray irrigation, she said, means
that the viruses in the effluent will
eventually seep into the groundwa-
ter and contaminate drinking water.
"This has become a public issue
and the public is well aware of it,"
she said. "If viral meningitis cases
begin to spring up in areas you use
for spray Irrigation, I think you
could be held liable."
Wellings recommended a "dual-
media" filter, which, she said, when
used with other treatment measures,
filters out most of the viruses in ef-
fluent before it is piped to spray irri-
Dr. John Betz, an associate pro-
fessor in the University of South
Florida's biology department, said
the commission would have to visit
Asia to get "smoking gun" evidence
of the effect of viruses in drinking
water on human health.
But, he said, "I don't think you
should wait for something like that
to happen in Hillsborough County."
"You've got a tremendous prob-
lem that is growing," he said. "What
we are asking you to do is catch up
and do something about viruses In
existing (wastewater treatment)
Wellings' claim sparked some op-
position. Bill Murchie, an engineer
with A M Engineering of Sarasota,
said Interim treatment plants do re-
move viruses from effluent
S "If the plant is properly de-
signed, it will run every bit as well
as a regular permanent county treat-
ment plant," he said.
Forcing developers to put the ex-
Spensive dual filter on their interim
plants, he said, would add $600 to
$1,000 to the cost of a lot
Commissioner Pick Talley said
that viruses from interim plants was
only a "needle in a haystack" com-
pared to pollutants created by pri-
vate septic tanks, stormwater runoff,
fertilizer and pesticides.
After debating the issue for
about two hours, the commission
Require special dual-media fil-
ters on all future interim treatment
plants, exempting interim plants for
which developers have already
signed an agreement with the county
or which have a county-approved set
of construction plans.
Ask county staff for a report
on the cost of fitting dual media fil-
ters on plants that have been ap-
proved but not built yet, and which
are located near public wells.
Asked the Environmental Pro-
tection Commission to study the fea-
siblity of a filtration system for sep-