[EDITORIALS]Clean Up Our Drinking Water

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[EDITORIALS]Clean Up Our Drinking Water

We are shocked that viruses that can cause enteritis, hepatitis and encephalitis were found in the tap water supplied to some small and medium-sized cities.

According to the Ministry of Environment, viruses were found in the reservoirs and the tap water of four out of 31 areas analyzed by a research team from Kyung Hee University beginning last May.

Scholars, including Kim Sang-jong, a professor at Seoul National University, have warned since 1997 that viruses are in some of Korea's tap water. But the central and local governments have not accepted the warnings, throwing doubt on the scholars' research methodology. The Seoul city administration filed a complaint against Mr. Kim, alleging that he is distributing a false information.

If the central and local governments had listened closely to the experts' warnings and taken action earlier, they could have prevented such a serious situation from continuing for years. The government now says it will do its best to protect the quality of tap water, which is like locking the barn door after the horse was stolen.

Though the government affirmed early last December that viruses had been discovered in some areas, it did not inform the residents of those areas of the facts, saying it needed additional inspections. The government began to support research in those areas only in late January or early February or even in March. As a result, the government let the residents use the polluted tap water.

It is appalling that the government cared more for secrecy than public health. In the United States, if a substance harmful to the human body is discovered in tap water, the tap water manager must announce the fact through the press within 24 hours after the discovery. The quality of tap water is related directly to public health. The local government said that no viruses were discovered in 24 large reservoirs or the tap water of big cities such as Seoul and Pusan. But that does not ease our anxiety, because experts say the size of the samples in this research is too small. The authorities emphasized that the amount of viruses discovered is not large enough to worry about. But experts also point out that some viruses can infect some people even when the amounts are very small.

The investigators cited insufficient disinfection, mismanagement of reservoirs that lack professional managers, old water pipes and improper location of water intake pipes. Until now, whenever a problem regarding tap water has been discovered, high-ranking government officials have gathered around a reservoir, each official drank a cup of water in the reservoir, and that was that.

With the result of the recent research, the central and local governments should begin a through inspection on all the reservoirs in the nation, including the small water supply systems in farm and fishing villages. In addition, the government should quickly introduce a standard for killing viruses in tap water and tighten the standards for tap water quality.

The government should not be negligent in watching the management of waste water disposal systems. In the long run, the central and local governments should dramatically improve the water quality of the nation's four major rivers, which are the main sources of drinking water, and should develop alternative source such as subterranean water.

The government should let people drink tap water without doubts.

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