U.S. Water News Online
WASHINGTON -- Easy access to clean, safe water can no longer be taken for granted, says a report by the American Academy of Microbiology. Water quality is threatened throughout the world, including the United States, according to the report.
Burgeoning populations, aging sewer systems, environmental pollution, and growing resistance of microorganisms to water-treatment chemicals are among problems cited by the academy in its report, *A Global Decline in Microbiological Safety of Water: A Call for Action,* which was based on data from U.S. and international health agencies.
"Water is going to be a seriously scarce resource in the coming decades as we move from a population of 5 or 6 billion to 10 billion," said Rita R. Colwell of the Maryland Biotechnology Institute, who is co-author of the report.
"Microbiologically, safe drinking water can no longer be taken for granted," she said, "even in the United States and other developed countries, and the situation will worsen unless measures are taken in the immediate future -- the crisis is global. Accurate risk analysis and public education at all levels are critical," she said.
Much attention has been given to pollution of water by chemicals and metals," Colwell said, "but in fact, the problems are really infectious diseases."
Up to 80 percent of such diseases may be related to waterborne microbes, the report says. "It's easy to measure chemicals and metals. It's more complicated to measure bacteria and viruses, but it's the bacteria and viruses that make us sick," said Colwell.
She said many outbreaks of diseases carried into homes via water faucets go unrecognized. The report recommends bottled water or home treatment programs as a short-term solution.
In the long-term, Colwell explained, greater use of microbe-detection methods is needed, along with active surveillance of disease outbreaks. Development of inexpensive, easy-to-use water treatment systems for developing countries also is critical, she added.
New testing methods have revealed many more microbes are waterborne than had been realized, Colwell said.
According to Dr. Timothy E. Ford of Harvard University, who chaired the colloquium steering committee, the extent of disease and death caused by waterborne-pathogens "has been greatly underestimated."
"Governments and policymakers are not taking sufficient action to counter these threats, especially risks posed by new and resurgent diseases, climate changes, surface water pollution, and development of antibiotic resistance," he said.
"Solutions are international in scale, though local in application," the report concludes. "Programs designed to reduce the incidence of waterborne disease must focus on nutritional status, sanitation, and housing, as well as water quality," according to the report.
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