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How Safe Is The Water?

Outbreaks of disease from drinking water and swimming pools have risen dramatically in recent years despite improvements in publicly operated water systems, the government said Thursday.

One of the chief causes includes insufficient regulation of private wells, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

"Many of these drinking-water outbreaks are preventable," said Sherline Lee of the CDC. "Whether from the tap or a bottle, the public should think about where their water comes from and whether it has been made safe."

About 70 percent of the outbreaks traced to swimming pools involved the chlorine-resistant organism cryptosporidium, the CDC said. Germs found in wells and other sources of drinking water can include parasites such as giardia and cryptosporidium and bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella.

In 1999 and 2000, the latest years for which numbers are available, there were a total of 39 outbreaks involving drinking water in 25 states, the CDC reported. That is more than double the 17 outbreaks reported in 1997-98.

The sharp rise comes even as outbreaks in regulated public water systems decline, and indicates that owners of private wells must "make sure the well is properly constructed, maintained or tested," Lee said.

Despite the rise in outbreaks, the number of people sickened by them remained steady. A total of 2,038 people were made ill by drinking water outbreaks in 1997-98, compared with 2,027 in 1999-2000. Two people died and 122 people were hospitalized in drinking water outbreaks in 1999 and 2000, the CDC said.

In 1999-2000, nearly 2,100 people in 23 states were sickened in 59 outbreaks involving swimming pools and other recreational sources, such as hot springs and lakes. Four died and 25 were hospitalized.

In 1997-98 there were 32 disease outbreaks involving pools and other recreational sources that sickened 2,128 people in 18 states.

By Daniel Yee

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