- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 7, 2001

In his April 2 letter to the editor, “Public health has foot in mouth,” George Avery is perfectly correct to lament that public health has lost focus of what used to be its prime objective: preventing communicable diseases. In particular, the letter states, “Drinking water sanitation perhaps the most significant contribution to public health.”

Mr. Avery rightly cites as threats waterborne cryptosporidium, which killed 100 people in Milwaukee in 1994 and sickened more than 100,000, and new strains of E. coli. In addition, new strains of superbugs, bacteria that have mutated and cannot be killed by antibiotics, may pose problems. However, muscular hands-on programs for preventing communicable diseases should be emphasized over litigation against companies and more regulations.

Although not reported by The Washington Times, Congress has held major hearings recently on the issue of repairing the nation´s water infrastructure. The issue is not negligible. Some contend that it would take $1 trillion during the next 20 years to pay for this repair. The average taxpayer should be given the facts. These repairs usually are paid by increased water rates or subsidies through added taxes.

We also must examine how our water infrastructure should be repaired. Cracked water mains are commingling their water with the water of cracked sewage lines. If the average taxpayer knew how frequently this occurs, he might prefer to have a system at home that guarantees that his water will be clean rather than pay for the work of politicians and large companies. He even might insist on a tax credit to pay for a good system, similar to tax credits that help pay for energy-saving improvements in homes.

In the arena of water safety, the most attention has been given to pathogenic bacteria, which cause diseases. However, heterotrophic bacteria also pose a threat. Some argue that they do not harm people with good immune systems. Such an attitude leaves at risk children, the elderly, people with AIDS and even people with nothing more than the flu.

More bad news about the state of our water arrives every day. February´s Water Conditioning and Purification magazine states that legionella was found in 33 percent of homes with electric hot water heaters. That means people routinely shower with legionella.

Water Conditioning and Purification reported in its December issue that a research lab discovered in a typical office water cooler 200 times more bacteria than authorized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. When lawyers in Washington realize the water cooler is helping spread sickness around the office, causing the loss of many billable hours, perhaps we´ll see some much-needed change



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