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N.Y. Suburb Sued by U.S. for Drinking Water Parasite Risk

The New York City suburb of Westchester County was sued by the U.S. over its alleged failure to adequately treat drinking water supplies for the parasite cryptosporidium.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint today in federal court in White Plains, New York, accusing the county of violating the Safe Drinking Water Act by failing to upgrade its treatment facilities to target the parasite. Cryptosporidium, a microbe, can cause a potentially fatal gastrointestinal illness for which there is no known treatment, according to the government.

“Westchester County has an obligation to protect the public and come into compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith Enck said in a statement. “In 2013, it is hard to believe there is resistance to taking action to prevent water-borne diseases.”

Under a rule that went into effect in 2006, public water systems that draw supplies from unfiltered surface water needed to install secondary disinfectant systems by April 1, 2012, to combat cryptosporidium, according to the complaint.

A Westchester official informed the EPA in December 2011 that the county wasn’t likely to meet the enhanced standards by the deadline, the government alleged. The county still hasn’t complied, according to the complaint.

‘Prolonged Failure’

“Westchester’s prolonged failure to comply with treatment rules designed to prevent cryptosporidiosis is unacceptable,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose jurisdiction includes parts of Westchester County, said in a statement.

A county representative didn’t immediately respond to a call seeking comment on the lawsuit.

The county’s District No. 1 draws untreated surface water from the Kensico Reservoir and partially treated water from the Delaware Aqueduct, according to the complaint. The district provides water to about 175,000 people in White Plains, Yonkers, Mount Vernon, Scarsdale and North Castle, according to the government.

The Justice Department and EPA are seeking an order requiring the county to comply with the enhanced standards as well as civil penalties.

The case is U.S. v. The County of Westchester, New York, 13-cv-05475, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (White Plains).

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