In this paper, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presents an approach and a national estimate of drinking water related endemic acute gastrointestinal illness (AGI) that uses information from epidemiologic studies. There have been a limited number of epidemiologic studies that have measured waterborne disease occurrence in the United States. For this analysis, we assume that certain unknown incidence of AGI in each public drinking water system is due to drinking water and that a statistical distribution of the different incidence rates for the population served by each system can be estimated to inform a mean national estimate of AGI illness due to drinking water. Data from public water systems suggest that the incidence rate of AGI due to drinking water may vary by several orders of magnitude. In addition, data from epidemiologic studies show AGI incidence due to drinking water ranging from essentially none (or less than the study detection level) to a rate of 0.26 cases per person-year. Considering these two perspectives collectively, and associated uncertainties, EPA has developed an analytical approach and model for generating a national estimate of annual AGI illness due to drinking water. EPA developed a national estimate of waterborne disease to address, in part, the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments. The national estimate uses best available science, but also recognizes gaps in the data to support some of the model assumptions and uncertainties in the estimate. Based on the model presented, EPA estimates a mean incidence of AGI attributable to drinking water of 0.06 cases per year (with a 95% credible interval of 0.02–0.12). The mean estimate represents approximately 8.5% of cases of AGI illness due to all causes among the population served by community water systems. The estimated incidence translates to 16.4 million cases/year among the same population. The estimate illustrates the potential usefulness and challenges of the approach, and provides a focus for discussions of data needs and future study designs. Areas of major uncertainty that currently limit the usefulness of the approach are discussed in the context of the estimate analysis.

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