EPA Announces Final Coliform Rule to Control Pathogens, Including E. Coli

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The Environmental Protection Agency announced Dec. 20 it has finalized an updated Total Coliform Rule, which aims to protect against pathogens in drinking water, and includes setting a limit for the bacteria E. coli.

The rule will provide greater public health protection than the 1989 rule it revises because it will require utilities to take steps to prevent exposure to dangerous pathogens and to take corrective action when E. coli bacteria are found, EPA said. The 1989 rule requires only public notification when the pathogen is found.

The rule will apply to the approximately 155,000 public water systems in the United States, which provide water to more than 300 million people, EPA said.

Pathogens such as E. coli can cause symptoms such as acute abdominal discomfort, or in more extreme cases, kidney failure or hepatitis, EPA said.

Under the revised rule, public drinking water systems are required to notify the public if a test exceeds the maximum contaminant level for E. coli in drinking water. If E. coli or other indicators of drinking water contamination are detected above a certain level, drinking water systems must assess the system and fix potential sources and pathways of contamination, EPA said.

More Monitoring for High-Risk Systems

High-risk drinking water systems with a history of noncompliance must perform more frequent monitoring, according to the rule. The revised rule also provides incentives to small systems that consistently meet certain measures of water quality and system performance, EPA said.

Requirements will take effect April 1, 2016. Until then, public water systems and the state and local agencies that oversee them must comply with the requirements of the 1989 version of the rule, EPA said.

In 2003, EPA announced it would review the 1989 rule under the six-year review requirement of the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1996.

The White House Office of Management and Budget finished its review of the rule in late November (232 DER A-3, 12/4/12).

By Pat Ware  

More information on the Total Coliform Rule is available at http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/sdwa/tcr/regulation.cfm.

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