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From: TSS ()
Subject: Too Close for Comfort, Water board urges relocation of the state's CWD research facility
Date: June 7, 2005 at 7:26 am PST

Rocky Mountain Bullhorn
June 2, 2005

Too Close for Comfort
Water board urges relocation of the state's CWD research facility.


It wasn't exactly "move it or lose it," but the message the Fort Collins Water Board sent
to the city, Colorado State University and the Colorado Division of Wildlife is loud and
clear: Conducting disease research near the city's water treatment plant is not in the
best interest of the public.

On May 26, the board unanimously voted to send a memo to Fort Collins City Council
expressing concern about the proximity of the DOW's chronic wasting disease research
station - which contains deer and elk pens on land leased from CSU - to the plant that
treats city drinking water. Both facilities are located at the far west end of Laporte
Avenue, within 150 feet from each other.

In addition to several short-term goals, including a public information campaign, the
board's long-term recommendation is "to develop a plausible solution to relocating the
research facility at a convenient time in the future," according to a draft of the memo.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is an always-fatal neurological disorder first discovered in
deer and elk at the Fort Collins facility in the early '60s and identified in the '70s as
a form of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy. Like mad cow disease in cattle,
scrapies in sheep and goats, and Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease in humans, it's thought to be
caused by infectious prions, or malformed proteins.

While mad cow disease has been linked definitively to human deaths, CWD has not, though
the DOW advises deer and elk hunters not to eat CWD-infected animals.

"I don't think it's a good policy to have any research in an open environment that's
dealing with those types of diseases near a water treatment plant," says Mike Smith, Fort
Collins Utilities general manager, who advises the water board and who was present at the
board meeting. "It would be nice to see that facility located somewhere far away from us."

Though the board's memo admits that "Fort Collins is unique [nationwide] in that the City'
s drinking water supply could contain prions" from the DOW facility and from infected deer
and elk in the Cache la Poudre watershed, it also concurs with the Larimer County Board of
Health's written opinion that "there is no evidence at this time that the Fort Collins
water supply is unsafe as a result of prion or other contamination from the DOW facility."

So the water board, stressing that there is "a high degree of uncertainty associated with
what is known" about CWD, decided to err on the side of safety. One recommended
precaution is to discharge water in the backwash basins - which are closest to the
experimentation site - during high winds, rather than reuse it.

Consumer confidence also played a major role in the decision.

"The risks we do know about chronic wasting disease indicate that there's no evidence that
the water would be unsafe. There's no indication that chronic wasting disease has been
manifested in people," says board member Rami Naddy, head of one subcommittee that
addressed the issue, and author of the memo. "We just want to make sure that people aren't
worried about it."

The board's decision has brought some closure to an issue that was raised in the spring of
last year when the DOW considered, then scrapped, plans to build an incinerator at the
site to dispose of infected carcasses.

But Jim Woodward - a concerned citizen who opposed the incinerator and persisted in
questioning state and local officials about the location of the research facility - says
the water board's step is only the beginning.

"To their credit, the water board was interested and took a serious look at it. I'm happy
with the [recommendation], although I wish it wasn't a long-term recommendation to
relocate the facility," he says.

"I wish they would have shown a little more backbone and been willing to make that a
short- or medium-term recommendation."

Woodward is concerned that water board members were uncritical of the county's assertion
that the water supply is safe. Furthermore, he believes the county cherry-picked data in
its research. All sides agree there's not enough information to reach a solid conclusion,
especially when no one's sure if the treatment plant would filter out prions.

"Part of the problem is that no one really knows, because you can't measure the prions in
the water," Naddy says.

That's why one of the short-term goals is to further examine the facility and keep up to
date on the available science.

But whether or not city council will act on recommendations - and whether the DOW would
ever honor council's request - remains in question. "We'll be off the water board by
then," one board member at the meeting joked of the relocation.

"It will be interesting to see what they do with that," says Naddy, noting that there are
four recently elected members of council. "That's totally up to them.

Sometimes we provide comment and they take our recommendations, and sometimes they don't."


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