Officials concerned over health of citizens


The Alexandria City Council has only two meetings remaining in this legislative year. On Tuesday night, they began clearing the decks for summer recess, receiving status reports on a variety of ongoing topics.

Environmental Health Assessment
The Alexandria Health Department conducted an environmental health assessment as part of its three-year study of the over-all health of the community. Bob Custer, chief of the Health Departments Division of Environmental Health, gave council a snapshot view of the findings.

For the environmental health assessment, the Health Department surveyed 475 residents of Alexandria who represented a representative sample of the citys population, demographically and geographically. These individuals identified their top environmental health concerns, which were then assessed by using national and state standards when available and other standards that were applicable to Alexandria when these were not available.

We found that indoor air quality, outdoor air quality and surface water quality were the three chief concerns, Custer said. In studying indoor air quality, we learned that between nine and fifteen thousand Alexandrians suffer from some sort of respiratory illness, ranging from asthma to lung cancer. This is extraordinarily high in a population the size of ours.

The Citys Environmental Action Plan, which will be presented to Council for ratification in late fall; will include recommendations for addressing the air quality issues. We must develop a comprehensive plan for addressing respiratory health, said Dr. Charles Konnigsberg, the director of the Health Department. We need to treat this just as we have begun to treat the issue of obesity in our adults and our children.

The Flood of 2006
In July, 2006, more than 14 inches of rain fell in just over a week, causing Cameron Run to leave its banks and cause widespread damage to businesses along Eisenhower Ave. and homes in the Huntington area of Fairfax County. As cleanup began, both Alexandria and Fairfax County contracted with the Army Corps of Engineers to assess what caused the flooding and to recommend prevention strategies.

On July 6, more than four inches of rain fell in a four hour period on already saturated ground, said Richard Baier, director of Transportation and Environmental Services for the city. This has been called a 300-year flood event, which is certainly unusual. The Army Corps looked at a number of factors and determined that sedimentation in Cameron Run was largely responsible for the stream overflowing its banks. The construction barge that broke loose from the Woodrow Wilson Bridge project had no real impact, nor did the tide because in the Potomac River.

While Alexandria did an excellent job responding to the floods by quickly removing debris and sediment from the creek, there is more to do, Baier said.

The Corps is looking at the possibility of constructing earthen levies or a seawall in combination with dredging to prevent such a disaster from occurring again. Also, there is now a web site on which the city and other jurisdictions can monitor weather conditions at Lake Barcroft and the release of water from the dam. Communication, coordination and collaboration will certainly help and we are doing much more of that, said Mayor Bill Euille.

While that is true, there is still the issue of the businesses along Eisenhower. While the city has restored our infrastructure to where it was prior to the flood, many of the businesses remain seven feet below the level of a 100-year flood event, Baier said. We are talking with them about what steps they are going to take to protect themselves.

T&ES staff will continue to work with Fairfax County and the Corps to look at alternatives and will present options and the cost implications of those options to Council some time in late fall or early winter.

Charles Houston Recreation Center
The renovated Charles Houston Recreation Center will include outside public art commemorating Charles Houston. The Commission on the Arts will lead this project, getting public input from throughout the City and particularly from the Charles Houston community on just what form this art should take, said Janet Barnett, the deputy director of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Activities.

The Center will close at the end of August and the 15-month construction project will begin. The new center will open in late 2008.