Surveillance for waterborne disease and outbreaks associated with drinking water and water not intended for drinking--United States, 2003-2004.MMWR Surveill Summ. 2006 Dec 22; 55(12):31-65.MS
Since 1971, CDC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists have maintained a collaborative Waterborne Disease and Outbreaks Surveillance System for collecting and reporting data related to occurrences and causes of waterborne disease and outbreaks (WBDOs). This surveillance system is the primary source of data concerning the scope and effects of WBDOs in the United States.
Data presented summarize 36 WBDOs that occurred during January 2003-December 2004 and nine previously unreported WBDOs that occurred during 1982-2002.
DESCRIPTION OF SYSTEM
The surveillance system includes data on WBDOs associated with drinking water, water not intended for drinking (excluding recreational water), and water of unknown intent. Public health departments in the states, territories, localities, and Freely Associated States (i.e., the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau, formerly parts of the U.S.-administered Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands) are primarily responsible for detecting and investigating WBDOs and voluntarily reporting them to CDC by using a standard form.
During 2003-2004, a total of 36 WBDOs were reported by 19 states; 30 were associated with drinking water, three were associated with water not intended for drinking, and three were associated with water of unknown intent. The 30 drinking water-associated WBDOs caused illness among an estimated 2,760 persons and were linked to four deaths. Etiologic agents were identified in 25 (83.3%) of these WBDOs: 17 (68.0%) involved pathogens (i.e., 13 bacterial, one parasitic, one viral, one mixed bacterial/parasitic, and one mixed bacterial/parasitic/viral), and eight (32.0%) involved chemical/toxin poisonings. Gastroenteritis represented 67.7% of the illness related to drinking water-associated WBDOs; acute respiratory illness represented 25.8%, and dermatitis represented 6.5%. The classification of deficiencies contributing to WBDOs has been revised to reflect the categories of concerns associated with contamination at or in the source water, treatment facility, or distribution system (SWTD) that are under the jurisdiction of water utilities, versus those at points not under the jurisdiction of a water utility or at the point of water use (NWU/POU), which includes commercially bottled water. A total of 33 deficiencies were cited in the 30 WBDOs associated with drinking water: 17 (51.5%) NWU/POU, 14 (42.4%) SWTD, and two (6.1%) unknown. The most frequently cited NWU/POU deficiencies involved Legionella spp. in the drinking water system (n = eight [47.1%]). The most frequently cited SWTD deficiencies were associated with distribution system contamination (n = six [42.9%]). Contaminated ground water was a contributing factor in seven times as many WBDOs (n = seven) as contaminated surface water (n = one).
Approximately half (51.5%) of the drinking water deficiencies occurred outside the jurisdiction of a water utility in situations not currently regulated by EPA. The majority of the WBDOs in which deficiencies were not regulated by EPA were associated with Legionella spp. or chemicals/toxins. Problems in the distribution system were the most commonly identified deficiencies under the jurisdiction of a water utility, underscoring the importance of preventing contamination after water treatment. The substantial proportion of WBDOs involving contaminated ground water provides support for the Ground Water Rule (finalized in October 2006), which specifies when corrective action is required for public ground water systems.
PUBLIC HEALTH ACTIONS
CDC and EPA use surveillance data to identify the types of water systems, deficiencies, and etiologic agents associated with WBDOs and to evaluate the adequacy of current technologies and practices for providing safe drinking water. Surveillance data also are used to establish research priorities, which can lead to improved water-quality regulation development. The growing proportion of drinking water deficiencies that are not addressed by current EPA rules emphasizes the need to address risk factors for water contamination in the distribution system and at points not under the jurisdiction of water utilities.