More than 100 million Americans will enjoy greater protection of their drinking water under a new rule issued today by the U.S. EPA. The rule targets utilities that provide water from underground sources and requires greater vigilance for potential contamination by disease-causing microorganisms.
“The Bush Administration’s Ground Water Rule boosts drinking water purity and public health security,” said Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant administrator for Water. “These first-ever standards will help communities prevent, detect and correct tainted ground water problems so citizens continue to have clean and affordable drinking water.”
The risk-targeting strategy incorporated in the rule provides for: regular sanitary surveys of public water systems to look for significant deficiencies in key operational areas, triggered source-water monitoring when a system that does not sufficiently disinfect drinking water identifies a positive sample during its regular monitoring to comply with existing rules, implementation of corrective actions by ground water systems with a significant deficiency or evidence of source water fecal contamination and compliance monitoring for systems that are sufficiently treating drinking water to ensure effective removal of pathogens.
A groundwater system is subject to triggered source-water monitoring if its treatment methods don’t already remove 99.99% of viruses. Systems must begin to comply with the new requirements by Dec. 1, 2009.
Contaminants in question are pathogenic viruses—such as rotavirus, echoviruses and noroviruses—and pathogenic bacteria, including E. coli, salmonella, and shigella. Utilities will be required to look for and correct deficiencies in their operations to prevent contamination from these pathogens.
Microbial contaminants can cause gastroenteritis or, in rare cases, serious illnesses such as meningitis, hepatitis or myocarditis. The symptoms can range from mild to moderate cases lasting only a few days to more severe infections that can last several weeks and may result in death for those with weakened immune systems. The new groundwater rule will reduce the risk of these illnesses.
Fecal contamination can reach groundwater sources, including drinking water wells, from failed septic systems, leaking sewer lines, and by passing through the soil and large cracks in the ground. Fecal contamination from the surface may also get into a drinking water well along its casing or through cracks if the well is not properly constructed, protected or maintained.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, between 1991 and 2000, groundwater systems were associated with 68 outbreaks that caused 10,926 illnesses. Contaminated source water was the cause of 79% of the outbreaks in groundwater systems.