July 19, 1996 - Safe Drinking Water Act

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) is the single largest life science society in the world with over 40,000 members. Members of the ASM have broad expertise in microbiology, including scientific expertise with pathogenic microorganisms that may be distributed through water supplies. Like all citizens, ASM members are also concerned with the safety of drinking water.

Waterborne pathogens continue to be a source of infectious disease despite the regulatory measures that have been instituted to ensure the microbiological safety of drinking water. In 1993- 94, 17 states reported a total of 30 waterborne disease outbreaks causing an estimated 405,000 persons to become ill. Twenty-two (73.3%) of the outbreaks were known or suspected to be associated with infectious agents. (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Vol. 45, No. SS-1)

Unfortunately, in many cases there's little scientific information about the infectious agent or the frequency in which waterborne outbreaks are occurring. Cryptosporidium, Shigella sonnei, E. coli O157:H7 and Giardia have been repeatedly implicated as culprits in waterborne disease outbreaks. However, no mandatory or active waterborne disease surveillance program exists in the U.S. In some states, Cryptosporidium is not even listed as a reportable disease to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As a result, many experts believe that the vast majority of waterborne related illnesses are never recognized or reported.

For these reasons, the ASM supports two important provisions contained in H.R. 3604, the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996 and S. 1316, the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1995. The first provision, which is in both H.R. 3604 and S. 1316, authorizes $10 million for health effects research/studies on drinking water contaminants. It allows EPA the flexibility to prioritize contaminants such as Cryptosporidium for health effects research and studies. Research addressing risk assessment, microorganisms' viability in finished water, and better dose-response data are all critical in determining the various risks posed by each waterborne pathogen and the necessary treatment methods to avoid a waterborne outbreak.

The second provision, contained only in H.R. 3604, is known as the Waterborne Disease Occurrence Study. This provision requires EPA and CDC to work jointly to establish waterborne disease occurrence studies for five major U.S. communities or public water systems and report the findings of the studies and a national estimate of waterborne disease occurrence. It also requires the EPA and CDC to jointly establish a national education program to educate both the professional health care provider community and the general public about waterborne infectious diseases and their symptoms. The ASM supports the protection of public health through the establishment of a uniform system of monitoring for waterborne infectious diseases. This provision will also lead to a better understanding of the frequency and magnitude of waterborne diseases.

The ASM encourages the conferees to the Safe Drinking Water Act to support and ensure the inclusion of these provisions in the conference bill, and passage of the reauthorization of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Thank you for your consideration. If you have any questions, please contact the ASM's Office of Public Affairs.

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