Is City Tap Water Safe To Drink? Department Of Environmental Protection Monitoring For 2 Microbes

Just when the West Nile Virus epidemic receded from the headlines, New Yorkers may have two other organisms to worry about.
This time the potential problem centers around two protozoa (one-celled microscopic animals) found in the water supply. They can pose a risk to both healthy and immuno-compromised drinkers of tap water.
The city Department of Environmental Protection announced last week that both DEP and the New York City Department of Health are listing results of testing for the organisms, Giardia and Cryptosporidium, on the Internet.
"The organisms have received increased national attention in recent years," the statement from DEP and the New York City Department of Health said. "For persons with significantly compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, the infection may lead to prolonged and possibly serious illness."
Outbreaks of the disease evidenced throughout the country can cause recurring diarrhea in healthy individuals and serious bouts of the intestinal ailment in sick individuals, particularly those afflicted with the HIV virus.
Dr. James Rahal, director of Infectious Diseases at New York Hospital Queens Medical Center, said the occasional recurrence of the disease can be traced to the fact that there isnt an efficient water filtration system in New York State.
"The contamination occurs when animals excrete into the states reservoirs," he said. "The high cost of building a water filtration plant to eliminate animal waste is the obstacle here."
He said the state has opted to control commercial or residential development near the reservoirs and keep on the alert for animal activity. Reportedly Gov. Pataki has had a new water filtration plan under consideration for the past four years.
In announcing the new web site at www.ci.nyc.ny.us/dep  Health Commissioner Neal L. Cohen said, "This is a significant step to let individual New Yorkers know about up-to-date results of our ongoing water safety tests."
He said the Health Department would immediately alert the medical community and others if there was a public risk from the protozoa, noting that reports of Giardia and Cryptosporidium have been infrequent.
Rahal, who specializes in infectious diseases, said, however, he was unable to comprehend the results of Giardia and Cryptosporidium tests performed by DEP on tap water.
"Id have to confer with DEP to understand what the data means," he said.
Rahal said that Giardia is a "real nuisance," causing bloating, gas and diarrhea and it "doesnt respond well to antibiotics."
Joseph Harrison, technical director of the Water Quality Association, in Lisle, Illinois, agreed with Rahal that a better water filtration plant would be the most effective means of controlling the problem. "But that is expensive and would drive water bills way up," he said. "Absence of [better] water filtration makes New Yorkers vulnerable to protozoa."
Harrison said analysis of water is not perfect and that its difficult to determine if the protozoa in tested water supplies are alive or dead. "Some cities have introduced ultra violet radiation to kill the organisms, but New York City isnt one of them," Harrison said.
Fact sheets on Giardia and Cryptosporidium are available on the Department of Healths web site at www.ci.nyc.ny.us/doh