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Are microbes lurking in your tap water?

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City utilities may be ordered to tell

June 23, 1996
Web posted at: 9:45 a.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congress is considering a far-reaching proposal requiring municipal water systems to tell the public what contaminants have been found in local drinking water, according to Sunday's New York Times.

The water systems would put those findings in water bills once a year, explaining what pollutants were found and, if federal water quality standards were violated, how the pollutants could affect the consumers' health.

Advocates of the legislation contend that this relatively simple step would be a powerful tool for insuring that water providers maintain good water quality. Critics say that, on the contrary, the notices would confuse consumers, the Times reports.

The so-called right-to-know provision is the latest in a steadily expanding list of federal programs that seek to deal with pollution not by prescribing how to prevent it or to clean it up, but merely by making information readily available to the public.

The provision, sponsored by Republicans and Democrats alike and unanimously approved by a House committee, is virtually certain to be approved by the full House when it votes on revisions to the Safe Drinking Water Act, probably by the end of the month.

Even though the Senate rejected such a plan when it unanimously approved its own version of the drinking water bill last year, it could well survive in the one piece of major environmental legislation that is likely to pass the 104th Congress.

The provision is strongly supported by the Clinton administration and environmental groups, and there is little vocal opposition from state and local governments or water companies.

Already, supporters and skeptics are arguing about what the effects will be once the regulations take effect in three years and households all over the country start to receive routine official notices about trace elements of microbes, pesticides and other contaminants in the water that flows from the tap.

Although California law requires similar disclosures and some utilities elsewhere provide them, the new federal law would make the statements much more widely available and easier to understand.


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