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U.N.: "Sick Water" Deadlier than War

More people die from polluted water every year than from all forms of violence, including war, the U.N. said in a report Monday that highlights the need for clean drinking water.

The report, launched Monday to coincide with World Water Day, said an estimated 2 billion tons of waste water - including fertilizer run-off, sewage and industrial waste - is being discharged daily. That waste fuels the spread of disease and damages ecosystems.

"Sick Water" - the report from the U.N. Environment Program - said that 3.7 percent of all deaths are attributed to water-related diseases, translating into millions of deaths. More than half of the world's hospital beds are filled by people suffering from water-related illnesses, it said.

Read the full report

"If we are not able to manage our waste, then that means more people dying from waterborne diseases," said Achim Steiner, the U.N. Undersecretary General and executive director of UNEP.

The report says that it takes 3 liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water, and that bottled water in the U.S. requires the consumption of some 17 million barrels of oil yearly.

Improved wastewater management in Europe has resulted in significant environmental improvements there, the UNEP said, but that dead zones in oceans are still spreading worldwide. Dead zones are oxygen-deprived areas caused by pollution.

"If the world is to thrive, let alone to survive on a planet of 6 billion people heading to over 9 billion by 2050, we need to get collectively smarter and more intelligent about how we manage waste, including wastewaters," Steiner said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is tightening drinking water standards to impose stricter limits on four contaminants that can cause cancer.

In a speech Monday, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said the agency is developing stricter regulations for four compounds (tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, acrylamide and epichlorohydrin). All four chemical compounds can cause cancer.

EPA Information on Drinking Water

Two of the compounds (tetrachloroethyleneylene and trichloroethylene) are used in industrial and textile processing and can seep into drinking water from contaminated groundwater or surface water. Two others (acrylamide and epichlorohydrin) are impurities that can be introduced into drinking water during the water treatment process.

Jackson said the EPA will issue new rules on the four chemical compounds within the next year.

In December, an analysis of federal data showed that since 2004 violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which requires communities to provide safe tap water, have been found at 20 percent of U.S. water treatment systems, but only six percent of those systems were ever fined or punished by state or federal officials.

The New York Times' Charles Duhigg reported that the violations - which include dangerous bacteria or illegal concentrations of toxic or radioactive substances - affected water delivered to more than 49 million people.

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