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Clinton Touts Water Purifying Rules
by Sandra Sobrieraj, Associated Press

The federal government is tightening water purification standards and giving states and municipalities nearly $870 million to bring their filtration plants up to snuff. For about 90 percent of American households the new regulations, which President Clinton was highlighting today in a visit to Rhode Island, will add less than $2 to the average monthly water bill, according to administration forecasts. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the changes could prevent up to 460,000 cases of waterborne illness a year and improve overall drinking water quality for 140 million Americans who are not already served by top-of-the-line filtration systems.

By requiring municipal plants to use higher-performance filters and to monitor filters more frequently, the higher standards are primarily aimed at eliminating the threat of cryptosporidium, a parasite spread through human or animal feces. More than 100 Milwaukee residents were killed, and another 400,000 sickened, when cryptosporidium contaminated the city's water supply in 1993. “This is a very complex subject with the health of the American public hanging in the balance,'' said Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Chafee, who co-authored the 1996 legislation requiring both tighter standards plus the federal money to help implement them, was accompanying Clinton on a morning tour of the Newport, R.I., water treatment plant before the president's public address at the oceanfront Fort Adams State Park. “The proposals the president is announcing will simultaneously reduce health threats both from the bacteria and viruses that may be in our drinking water and the disinfectants that are used to remove them,'' Chafee said. The new regulations also toughen standards for allowable concentrations of chlorine byproducts in drinking water and reduce an individual's exposure to such byproducts by an estimated 25 percent. Used to disinfect water, chlorine can combine with natural organic materials and form trihalomethanes, which are suspected of causing cancer or birth defects in tests on lab animals.

The federal government is providing states with $775 million in fiscal 1999 for low-interest loans to municipalities that must upgrade facilities to bring them into compliance. Another $93.8 million is being released to state drinking-water monitoring and enforcement programs. Most water treatment facilities must comply by December 2001. Smaller systems serving under 10,000 people have two more years to meet the higher standards. All told, the improvements are expected to cost federal, state and local governments some $2.5 billion over five years.