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EPA To Fight Illness at Olympics

July 17, 2000

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ Consider Salt Lake City with tens of thousands of extra visitors: Mounds of garbage pile up, flu spreads like wildfire and a temperature inversion chokes the city with pollution.

That’s the scenario the Environmental & Public Health Alliance is working hard to prevent during the 2002 Winter Olympics,

The group includes public health officials from the six counties holding the games, the state’s Health, Environmental Quality and Agriculture agencies and their federal counterparts.

They are devising plans on how to handle a slew of health issues during the 17-day games.

For example, cleanup experts want garbage and wastewater disposals conducted at night, which means landfills and sewage-treatment plants must remain open after normal working hours.

A computerized tracking system is being developed by the state Department of Health to collect and monitor data vital to combating a bioterrorist attack or, more likely, an outbreak of the flu.

Others are developing emergency response plans in case of accidents involving waste material, chemicals, or biological weapons released by terrorists.

Air quality is the most visible influence on public health and is receiving much of the attention, said Laverne Snow, who last year took on the task of coordinating the EPHA following a 15-year stint with the state health department.

The EPHA helped shape the framework of the air-quality section in a still-unreleased update of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee’s transportation plan. The initial plan failed to address how extra traffic would affect air quality.

Preliminary estimates show air pollution will be 3 percent higher during the games than an average February _ and that’s without a temperature inversion _ said Environmental Protection Agency official Dean Gillam. He hopes much of it can be offset by carpooling, flexible work hours, increased bus and light-rail use, and the closure of universities, where thousands commute to daily.

Still other health experts are looking at ways to handle mass gatherings such as the nightly parties around the medals plaza in downtown Salt Lake City and Main Street celebrations in Park City.

To prevent an outbreak of food poisoning, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is working with the alliance to ensure inspectors consistently recognize unsanitary practices. Unauthorized street vendors were a major problem in Atlanta.

The public-health professionals hope to remain behind-the-scenes, emerging only if something goes awry.

``When we’re doing our job right, nobody will know we’re here,″ Snow said.

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