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 DENVER, April 16 /PRNewswire/ -- The American Water Works Association (AWWA) has called upon its member utilities in the United States and Canada to institute voluntary testing of their waters for the parasite Cryptosporidium in light of the recent outbreak of illness in Milwaukee.
 "Not only are we issuing this national call-to-action on testing," says Foster Burba, AWWA president, "we're strongly encouraging water utilities to develop stricter watershed management and treatment practices. The unfortunate episode in Milwaukee points to the need for an increased level of vigilance to cope with potential threats to public health."
 The Association has sent its 3,700 utility members background information on the organism found in Milwaukee source waters, how to guard against it, and effective treatment practices when it occurs. Local utilities drawing water from rivers and lakes are urged to test for Cryptosporidium, implement remedial treatment procedures, and report results to their customers.
 The Association says other critical problems exist. "While Congress and the Office of Budget Management (OMB) fight over funding for drinking water programs, the public may be exposed to public health threats," says Burba.
 "Drinking water programs in the U.S. are being impeded by piecemeal approaches, infighting among government agencies, inadequate scientific data, fragmented public health responsibilities, and, in some cases, the apathy of local elected officials," says Burba. "We're urging water utilities to step forward and take some of these matters into their own hands."
 Public water supply is currently regulated for water quality by federal regulations set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Safe Drinking Water Act. State program offices provide oversight, monitoring surveillance, and technical assistance on water treatment and quality. Because so many public water systems in the United States are small and often understaffed, the state programs serve a critical support role in assuring safe water to the public. Because of a severe lack of resources, states have had to focus on reactions to problems rather than their traditional preventive role.
 "Part of the problem in public water supply today is that the job of providing safe drinking water has changed so drastically," says Jack Hoffbuhr, AWWA's deputy executive director and a former public health official. "We're in the midst of a transition from water supply as simply an engineering and treatment operation to water supply as a complex public health protection program which must provide several integrated barriers to contaminants between the water source and the consumers. The transition not only contributes to political and technical problems, it also affects local water operations, from who should be on staff in utilities to decisions on treatment methods."
 The Association points out that water providers in the United States today not only are aware of these problems, they are fighting to solve them. In addition to the lack of funding for state oversight and technical programs, utilities are faced with compromised raw water sources, the lack of comprehensive medical and public health analyses of contaminants, controversy over the efficacy of certain treatment technologies, and the cost of some of these new treatments. "In many areas, citizens simply don't want to pay the price for sophisticated treatment," says Jack Mannion, AWWA executive director. "Thus, massive public education and public involvement efforts need to be launched so that many of these decisions about water treatment and water quality are shifted out of the back rooms of Washington into public arenas. After all, it's the public's water and the public's health. Many of these water decisions are best made by the communities who are drinking the water," he continues.
 "Even with these problems facing us today, U.S. drinking water supplies as a whole are just about the safest in the world," says Mannion. "We don't want to lose sight of that as we continue to work on these other issues."
 Among the expensive and controversial issues that abound today is mandatory filtration of surface water. Although many cities argue that the source of their drinking water is so clean that filtration is unnecessary, the incident in Milwaukee last week offers persuasive evidence that stricter measures may be needed in many areas. The association for years has supported and encouraged filtration of surface water sources to guard against Giardia, Cryptosporidium, and other organisms.
 State and federal research and oversight funds remain a central issue, however, according to the Association. "Not only have state funds been cut in the past five years, EPA funds for drinking water research have been cut 50 percent in recent years," says Mannion. Water utilities have tried to fill the gap in funding by investing in drinking water research through the AWWA Research Foundation at a rate of $10 million per year. This helps but it does not meet the full need for complex health effect and treatment research, according to the Association.
 "Most water supplies in the U.S. are perfectly safe, and the professionals who work in them are dedicated, conscientious people," Mannion says. "However, with the delicate balance among water sources, treatment procedures, and operations needed to assure safe water, occasionally accidental contaminations occur. The public normally is informed of these incidences as soon as they are identified. If there is a case of contamination, as there was in Milwaukee last week, boiling water or using bottled water are short- term solutions until proper centralized treatment can be restored."
 AWWA has long supported state and local programs to deal with the complex public health aspects of water supply.
 The American Water Works Association is composed of 54,000 individuals and organizations in the drinking water profession. AWWA works to assure a safe, sufficient supply of drinking water for the nation and is committed to advancing the science, technology, consumer awareness, management, and government policies related to drinking water.
 -0- 4/16/93
 /CONTACT: Joan Dent, director of public information of American Water Works Association, 303-794-7711/

CO: American Water Works Association ST: Colorado IN: ENV SU:

LS-JB -- DV010 -- 7017 04/16/93 19:16 EDT
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Date:Apr 16, 1993

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