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BEH, BECQ sign MOU on water quality monitoring

(CHCC) — The Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation-Bureau of Environmental Health and the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality signed a memorandum of understanding on Feb. 22, 2019, regarding water quality monitoring at regulated food service establishments in the CNMI.

Present to witness and sign this partnership were CHCC CEO Esther Muna and BECQ Administrator Eli Cabrera, staff from the BEH and BECQ, and representatives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The purpose of this interagency MOU is to establish and strengthen the working relationship between the BEH and BECQ in order to improve their combined efforts to ensure that food establishments in the CNMI practice safe health and hygiene procedures. This move is in response to findings regarding E. coli and total coliform bacteria during monitoring efforts after Super Typhoon Yutu. FEMA, under the Stafford Act, provided support to the BECQ and BEH to conduct post-Typhoon microbial water quality monitoring at food service establishments. The water quality monitoring efforts provided data that identified the presence of various public health vulnerabilities in the operations and infrastructure of food service establishments.

Since December 2018, teams from the BEH and BECQ have visited and sampled water sources from 176 food service establishments. Of those sampled, roughly 50 percent revealed the presence of either total coliform or E. coli bacteria in their water. Total coliform is not harmful to humans, but illustrates that the water supply is vulnerable to bacterial and other contamination. E. coli can be harmful to humans and possibly result in illness, although most strains are not dangerous. These vulnerabilities posed a potential threat to the public health of the people of the CNMI via waterborne contamination that could potentially transmit communicable diseases and impact the sanitation of food handling and preparation.

This MOU provides guidelines for the coordination of activities between the two agencies, with the overall goal of identifying and minimizing microbial contamination to prevent food and waterborne diseases and to protect overall public health. The signing was dedicated to former BECQ Safe Drinking Water Program Manager Jose Kaipat.

More information on total coliform bacteria can be found at https://www.epa.gov/dwreginfo/revised-total-coliform-rule-and-total-coliform-rule.

For more information about the BEH, call 664-4870/2/3, or email its director, John Tagabuel, at john.tagabuel@dph.gov.mp.

For more information about BECQ, call 664-8500, or contact DEQ Director Ray Masga at raymasga@becq.gov.mp.

For more information about its programs, follow CHCC on Facebook and Twitter at @cnmichcc, check out the website at www.chcc.gov.mp, or call 234-8950.