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Risk of Waterborne Illness via Drinking Water in the United States

From 1971 to 2002, there were 764 documented waterborne outbreaks associated with drinking water, resulting in 575,457 cases of illness and 79 deaths. Here the researchers provide estimates of waterborne infection and illness risks in the U.S. based on the total number of water systems, source water type, and total populations exposed. Furthermore, they evaluated all possible illnesses associated with the microbial infection and not just gastroenteritis. The results indicate that 10.7 M infections/yr and 5.4 M illnesses/yr occur in populations served by community groundwater systems; 2.2 M infections/yr and 1.1 M illnesses/yr occur in noncommunity groundwater systems; and 26.0 M infections/yr and 13.0 M illnesses/yr occur in municipal surface water systems. The total estimated number of waterborne illnesses/yr in the U.S. is therefore estimated to be 19.5 M/yr. Epidemiological studies are conflicting on the benefits of POU water treatment. One prospective intervention study found that consumers of reverse-osmosis (POU) filtered water had 20%-35% less gastrointestinal illnesses than those consuming regular tap water, with an excess of 14% of illness due to contaminants introduced in the distribution system. Two other studies using randomised, blinded, controlled trials determined that the risks were equal among groups supplied with POU-treated water compared to untreated tap water. Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 2008;192:117-58.

Author: Reynolds KA, Mena KD, Gerba CP

Published: 01/01/2008

Publication Type: Journal article

Publisher: Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology