NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Did EPA Play Role In Cholera Epidemic?

February 6, 1996

Some Latin American officials are holding American environmental groups and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) responsible for the recent cholera epidemic that has killed 10,000 people in Peru and 12 other South American nations.

It seems that the countries bought in to the EPA's campaign to reduce the chlorination of drinking water, even though chlorine is the most effective killer of bacteria -- including strains that cause cholera.

  • The environmentalists blame chlorine for everything from thinning the ozone layer to causing cancer to reducing sperm counts.
  • Greenpeace International has demanded the elimination of all man-made chlorines in use.
  • Aside from endangering lives, such a move -- if implemented here -- would cost the U.S. economy $91 billion a year.
  • Having become a convert herself, EPA head Carol Browner is calling for reducing -- if not eliminating -- use of chlorines.

This campaign has had limited effect in the U.S. so far. But Peru bought the rhetoric wholesale and greatly reduced the chlorine pumped into its water supply.

This set the stage for the horrible epidemic. Pan American Health Organization officials suspect that a Chinese freighter released its cholera-contaminated bilge water into the harbor at Lima. The bacteria made its way into open wells that hadn't been chlorinated at all and into other fresh water supplies in which chlorine levels had fallen too low to kill the germ.

Nevertheless, the EPA has proposed requiring US water systems to eliminate the process known as pre-disinfection as a means of controlling "disinfection byproducts." According to some officials, the added cost might force small water systems to turn to less effective treatments and abandon chlorination completely.

Source: Michael Fumento (Reason magazine), "The EPA vs. Safe Water," Investor's Business Daily, February 6, 1996.


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