Monitoring of Drinking Water Barely Trickles Ahead

Here’s new warning our drinking water can harm — in some cases, even kill. It comes from What’s On Tap?, a report from the National Association of People With AIDS (NAPWA). The report surveyed the nation’s largest metropolitan water districts, to weigh the risk of a large Cryptosporidium outbreak, like the massive 1993 outbreak. that sickened more than 400,000 and killed more than 100 in Milwaukee.

According to the report, six cities are at “extreme high risk” for a Cryptosporidium outbreak. Atlanta, Dallas, Minneapolis, Newark, St. Petersburg and Washington, D.C. do not test their water for the organism after it leaves the treatment plant. Twenty-two cities are at “high risk,” meaning testing is occurring, but it is spotty, inaccurate and little action is taken to notify the public. Now, Milwaukee, Seattle and Tampa are rated as “low-risk.” They have surveillance and notification systems to respond to any outbreak.

Microbes in water are most likely to cause flu-like symptoms and diarrhea, but can also cause serious diseases like hepatitis, giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis and Legionnaires’ Disease. The elderly, children and the immunocompromised are at greatest risk.

In response to the need for better detection of potential problems, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just implemented the Information Collection Rule. It requires large public water systems that serve 100,000 or more people to monitor for microbes, including Cryptosporidium and Giardia, and for disinfection byproducts like chlorine, chloroform and trihalomethane, which might pose a risk of cancer and birth defects.

Collection of data won’t begin until February 1997. Eight months later, findings will be available to the public via the toll-free Safe Drinking Water Hotline, (800) 426-4791, and via the EPA’s homepage on the Internet (www.epa.gov). Then, officials will set allowable limits for various chemicals and microbes. All this could take up to three years, hardly a short-term solution, says NAPWA.

Concerned about your water? Ask your utility company for a current analysis. High-risk individuals, particularly those in high-risk cities, should boil water for at least one minute before using or consider a water filter certified to remove Cryptosporidium. (See EN, September 1995 Special Supplement.)

For a list of cities and their risk levels, or tips on avoiding Cryptosporidium, write: NAPWA, 1413 K Street, NW, 7th Floor, Washington, DC 20005, or e-mail: napwa@thecure.org.

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