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Vice President Al Gore announced an Administration proposal to improve drinking water quality for 109 million Americans by protecting groundwater supplies from disease-causing viruses and bacteria such as E. coli. The proposed rule--the first to extend such protections to underground sources of drinking water--is expected to prevent more than 115,000 illnesses per year.
"This is another significant step by our Administration to ensure that Americans enjoy the safest drinking water possible," Vice President Gore said. "More than 90 percent of Americans receive tap water that meets all federal health standards--nearly 22.5 million more than in 1993. This new proposal will bring us even closer to the day when every community in America has clean, safe drinking water."
Approximately 157,000 public water systems in the U.S. draw all or part of their drinking water from underground sources. At present, the use of disinfectants to prevent waterborne disease is required only in public water systems supplied by surface waters such as rivers, lakes and streams. However, new research indicates that groundwater supplies also can be susceptible to contamination from a range of sources including failed municipal sewage treatment systems and failed individual septic systems.
Under the new rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), states would be required to survey all drinking water systems, and groundwater systems at risk of contamination would be required to monitor their sources and take corrective action such as disinfection to address any contamination found. Drinking water suppliers using groundwater also would be required to fix defects in their systems that could lead to contamination. The proposed rule would not affect private wells serving individual homes. EPA recommends that private well owners test their wells annually for coliform bacteria.
The proposed rule is the latest action by the Administration under Safe Drinking Water Act amendments signed by President Clinton in 1996. In December 1998, the Administration adopted a major new standard to protect 140 million Americans served by large water systems from contamination from microbes such as Cryptosporidium. Last month, Vice President Gore proposed an additional rule to extend these protections to an additional 18 million Americans served by small water systems.
(Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)