Officials Say Drinking Water Is Safe, But Federal Goverment Begs To Differ

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — The federal government has filed a lawsuit against Westchester County for allegedly not treating its water supply against a potentially deadly parasite.

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As CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported Tuesday, a significant portion of the county’s water supply could contain a dangerous microscopic parasite that can cause a potentially fatal gastrointestinal illness for which authorities say there is no known treatment.

“I’ll be drinking bottled water. That’s not a good sign. It’s alarming,” White Plains resident Douglas Century told Kramer.

“It makes me feel very uneasy and something should be done about it, really,” John Martin of North Castle said.

But some residents said they saw this problem coming.

“I’m not surprised, to be honest with you,” Mt. Kisco resident Maryann Krzos told Kramer. “Because they don’t want to spend the money to upgrade the systems.”

WEB EXTRA: Read The Complaint (pdf)

The U.S. Attorney and the Environmental Protection Agency filed a lawsuit against Westchester County, charging that it is violating the federal Safe Water Drinking Act by pumping unfiltered water into areas like Scarsdale, White Plains and Yonkers since April of last year.

That unfiltered water is not treated for the parasite cryptosporidium, authorities allege.

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

The parasite’s most common symptoms in humans are fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramps, which can last a week, the suit claims.

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Federal authorities noted that people with weakened immune systems as well as young children, pregnant women and the elderly are at a “heightened risk” and said the condition “can be life-threatening.”

Because there is no known treatment, “prevention of an outbreak is critical to ensure the public’s health and safety,” the suit said.

“It’s not every day that the federal government sues a town or municipality of county government for failure to comply with basic environmental laws. So things probably had to unravel quite a bit to get to this point,” said New York Urban Program Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Eric Goldstein.

The suit claims as many as 175,000 people could be drinking the untreated water.

Westchester County officials contend it’s about 100,000 residents who may be drinking the affected water.

A county spokesman told Kramer that they’re stunned that the feds filed suit instead of working with them to come up with a solution.

Westchester officials say that they have a plan to fix the problem within in a year, Kramer reported.

The county Department of Health claims that the water is safe and said it is not aware of any illnesses caused by the parasite.

However, federal sources tell CBS 2 the parasite is hard to detect because its symptoms present as a gastrointestinal problem.

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