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AIDS GROUP SAYS 6 CITIES FAILING TO GO AFTER PARASITE

Six cities are taking little action to prevent waterborne cryptosporidium from sickening residents, concludes an AIDS group that surveyed how the nation's biggest water departments fight the parasite.

The government doesn't know how many people are infected every year, but 400,000 people got sick from Milwaukee's water in 1993 and about 100 died.That outbreak, and the lack of national information, prompted the National Association of People with AIDS to survey 31 large cities to see how often they test drinking water and how quickly they alert the public, especially the AIDS patients most likely to be sickened, to cryptosporidium contamination.

NAPWA cited six cities for taking the least action against cryptosporidium, saying that:

- Atlanta, Minneapolis and St. Petersburg, Fla., do not test for cryptosporidium before drinking water reaches the public.

- Dallas tests drinking water once a month for cryptosporidium, but funding cuts eliminated programs to warn consumers if it was discovered.

- Newark, N.J., tests drinking water quarterly and doesn't have an effective information system.

- Washington, D.C., has released conflicting information to the public about how often it tests and whether it finds any.

Cryptosporidium is a microscopic parasite typically spread by feces. It can cause diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps, and can kill AIDS patients and others with weak immune systems.

The Minnesota Health Department doesn't recommend that any of its cities test for cryptosporidium because the test is not reliable, said spokesman Buddy Ferguson.

But residents are not at high risk because studies show cryptosporidium infection is not on the rise in Minnesota, he said.

Tests do vary, catching cryptosporidium between 30 percent and 60 percent of the time, acknowledged NAPWA's Lisa Ragain. Still, the Environmental Protection Agency is considering a proposal to force all water systems that serve over 100,000 people to test, she said.

Texas officials are working to improve notification about cryptosporidium statewide, although Dallas residents are not believed to be at high risk, said Terry Hadley of the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission.

The Environmental Protection Agency has ordered Washington to clean up its entire water system.