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EPA wants to require details on what's in drinking water

The government moved a step closer Wednesday to giving consumers for the first time detailed information about chemicals and potential health hazards in their tap water.

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed regulations that would require suppliers nationwide to provide annual reports on what's in their drinking water and whether it meets federal health standards."The new information will provide consumers with a snapshot of the current state of their local drinking water supply," EPA Administrator Carol Browner said at a news conference.

She said expansion of federal environmental "right-to-know" regulations to drinking water "will help Americans and their families, particularly those with special health needs, make informed decisions regarding their drinking water and their health."

But don't count on the information just yet. The regulation won't be final until later this year, and EPA officials said most water agencies probably wouldn't supply the new annual reports until sometime in 1999.

Congress last year directed the EPA to require the new reporting as part of an overhaul of the federal drinking water law - but not before contentious debate. Municipal water agencies said they were worried the information might cause unwarranted fears about health risks and would be costly.

The new reporting requirements "will ensure that Americans in the 21st century have the information they need about the safety or their drinking water," President Clinton said in a statement lauding the EPA rule.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration was considering whether to require "right-to-know" labeling on bottled water. The FDA was working with the bottled water industry on new guidelines for what information should be required in such labeling.

The EPA proposal, which still must undergo a 45-day comment period, would require more than 56,000 community water agencies to provide customers with an annual assessment of the quality of their tap water. The reports would have to be included with water bills, except for systems serving fewer than 10,000 customers.