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Tuesday, November 3, 1998 Published at 11:40 GMT


Clampdown on water bugs

Reservoir: tough new rules now govern water purity

The government has launched a crackdown on water companies aimed at reducing the risk of illness caused by water borne bugs.

Environment Minister Michael Meacher announced measures aimed at cutting the risk of contamination by cryptosporidium.

Cryptosporidium, a parasite found in man and animals, can be transmitted by water supplies.

It causes illness that can last several weeks, and is potentially fatal in the elderly, very young and those in poor health.

New criminal offence

The Drinking Water Inspectorate will have tougher powers to prosecute companies if monitoring detects cryptosporidium at an unacceptable level.

It will be an offence for water from plants that are subject to the regulations to contain on average more than one cryptosporidium oocyst in 10 litres of water.

A new criminal offence is being created with an unlimited fine on conviction.

Other new measures include:

  • Continuous monitoring of the treated water for cryptosporidium at plants where there is most risk;
  • Monitoring at more plants than originally suggested;

Cryptosporidium is found in the guts of sheep and cattle and reservoirs close to farmland are more likely to be at risk of contamination.

The announcement follows the publication of a report by the expert group on the problem which ministers consulted last spring.

The Government has also accepted the 51 recommendations of the expert group.

Mr Meacher said: "These measures will help protect public health.

"Cryptosporidium is a nasty bug. Water-borne outbreaks are fortunately rare. These new regulations will ensure that water companies take proper precautions against them occurring."

Co-operation vital

[ image: Tap water must be free of parasites]
Tap water must be free of parasites
Professor Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, said: "I consider it vital that the water companies and public health officials work closely together to develop risk assessment and risk management strategies to ensure public health is properly protected and risks from water borne cryptosporidiosis are minimised."

The Report recognises that water is only one of a number of possible sources of cryptosporidium and that much has been done to safeguard water supplies since publication of the Group's first two reports in 1990 and 1995.

The expert group was re-established following the outbreak of cryptosporidiosis in north west London and Hertfordshire in early spring 1997.

This outbreak was associated with drinking water derived from underground strata. Such water sources had been considered to be at very low risk of contamination by cryptosporidium.

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