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U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Research and Development
National Center for Environmental Research
Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Program


Microbial Risk in Drinking Water

Opening Date: June 15, 2001
Closing Date: September 17, 2001

*** NOTICE ***

    Closing Date has been extended:

  • Microbial Risk in Drinking Water Open: June 15, 2001 - Closing: September 17, 2001 - Extended to September 24, 2001

Specific Areas of Interest
Standard Instructions for Submitting an Application

Get Standard STAR Forms and Instructions (http://www.epa.gov/ncer/rfa/forms/index.html)
View NCER Research Capsules (http://www.epa.gov/ncer/publications/topical/)
View research awarded under previous solicitations (http://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/research.search/rpt/abs/type/3)


One of the high-priority research areas identified by the EPA Office of Research and Development (ORD) is drinking water.  Under the 1996 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the responsibility for making sure public water systems provide safe drinking water is divided among EPA, states, tribal nations, water systems, and the public.  Threats to drinking water safety come from the occurrence of chemical contaminants or pathogens in drinking water and research is needed in a variety of areas to improve the ability to assess and thereby reduce the public health risks from America’s public water systems.  EPA currently supports a number of drinking water-related research grants resulting from previous solicitations.  Information regarding current research can be found on ORD’s National Center for Environmental Research (NCER) homepage http://www.epa.gov/ncer/publications/topical/drinking.html.

The 1996 SDWA Amendments required EPA to publish a list of contaminants which, at the time of publication, are not subject to any proposed or promulgated national primary drinking water regulation, are known or anticipated to occur in public water systems, and may require regulation under the SDWA [section 1412(b)(1)].  This list has become known as the Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) and the first drinking water CCL was published in March 1998 (Federal Register63(40):10274-10287, March 2, 1998).  The list consists of 50 chemical and 10 microbial contaminants/contaminant groups that are known or anticipated to occur in public water systems.  CCL contaminants are grouped according to the need for research in health effects, treatment or analytical methods; occurrence monitoring; and regulatory or guidance development.  The Agency is required to repeat the contaminant identification and selection cycle every five years, thereby regularly revising the CCL.  EPA and others currently conduct risk assessments for pathogens in drinking water to support risk management decisions.  The magnitude and causes of risk influence the stringency and focus of these decisions.  Having a better understanding of the magnitude of risks from drinking water, and the relative contribution of pathogen risk from deficiencies in distribution systems versus deficiencies in treatment of the source water, will enable better-informed risk management decisions.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that there are over 200 million cases of acute gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses per year in the United States, 76 million of which may be foodborne (Mead et al., 1999).  Household intervention epidemiology studies by Payment et al. (1991, 1997) have suggested that 10-40% of GI illnesses may be associated with drinking water.  If only a small fraction of annual GI illness is caused by exposure to pathogens in drinking water, millions of cases of GI illnesses may be associated with drinking water each year.  This rate is substantially greater than EPA’s current estimates of illness caused by individual pathogens.  Many waterborne illnesses will be reduced substantially by EPA’s recent regulatory efforts to treat for pathogens originating in the source water (63FRN69478, December 16, 1998; 65FRN83015, December 29, 2000).  However, much uncertainty remains regarding the extent to which waterborne disease incidence may still exist.  Uncertainties result from both problems with distribution systems (e.g., intrusion of pathogens during periods of negative water pressure or growth and release of pathogens from biofilm) and the variability among pathogens in their infectivity, virulence, and response to treatment approaches (e.g., when one pathogen, such as Cryptosporidium, is targeted in treatment and other pathogens respond differently to the treatment).

Methodologies, analytical tools and data are needed to help estimate the extent of gastrointestinal illness attributable to drinking water in populations served by community water and to determine its chief causes.  Current approaches for estimating risk include using epidemiology studies for estimating attributable risk of GI illness from drinking water.  Another approach entails application of the dose-response relationship for specific pathogens to their occurrence in finished waters to derive pathogen-specific risks.  Limitations of the first approach are that epidemiology studies such as the household intervention studies by Payment et al. (1991, 1997) tend to be very costly and the data for a particular system may not be relevant to other systems.  Limitations of the second approach are the lack of pathogen-specific information to conduct the analyses (a limitation of many of the pathogens on the current CCL) and that many pathogens behave differently than the target pathogen for which the risk assessment is made.


To address this situation, the Agency is soliciting research proposing innovative approaches for estimating microbial risk.  Proposed approaches, tools and data should contribute to providing a better understanding of the magnitude of microbial risk in drinking water or the relative significance of risks from distribution systems versus treatment deficiencies.  There are two distinct areas of research covered by this solicitation:

1) Development of indices or classification schemes, or actual risk characterizations based on data collection and analysis, that indicate relative degrees of potential risk from pathogens in source water, pathogen passage through treatment barriers, or vulnerability of a distribution system to pathogen intrusion or growth; and

2) Epidemiology studies of ground water or surface water-based systems that generate data to indicate attributable risk from drinking water and/or the relative contributions of risk from distribution systems versus treatment deficiencies.

Examples of research in either of the above two areas may involve characterizations of relative risk from different causes (e.g., source water pathogen loadings versus vulnerabilities within the distribution system) or characterization of risk associated with one cause such as vulnerability in distribution systems (e.g., risks from chronic or periodic exposure to pathogens released from biofilm or intrusion events).  The use of innovative research approaches is encouraged.


Mead P. S., Slutsker L, Dietz V. et al., 1999. Food-related illness and death in the United States. Emerg. Infect. Dis., Vol. 5, no. 5. Available from URL: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol5no5/mead.htm exit EPA .

Payment P., Richardson L., Siemiatycki J. et al., 1991.  A randomized trial to evaluate the risk of gastrointestinal disease due to consumption of drinking water meeting currently accepted microbiological standards. Am. J. Public Health, 81:703-708.

Payment P., Siemiatycki J., Richardson L., 1997.  A prospective epidemiological study of gastrointestinal health effects due to the consumption of drinking water.  Int. J. Environ. Health Res., 7:5-31.


Approximately $3.0 million is expected to be available for awards responsive to this solicitation.  However, awards are subject to the availability of funds.  The projected award amounts for this RFA are as follows:  total costs of up to $175,000/year with a duration of 2 or 3 years for proposals responsive to the first research area (development of  indices or classification schemes to characterize microbial risk); and total costs of up to $400,000/year with a duration of up to 3 years for proposals responsive to the second research area (epidemiological investigations).  These budget limits should not be exceeded.  The results of this research are intended to benefit researchers in academia and decision makers at all levels.


Academic and not-for-profit institutions located in the U.S., and state or local governments, are eligible under all existing authorizations.  Profit-making firms are not eligible to receive grants from EPA under this program.  Federal agencies and national laboratories funded by federal agencies (Federally-funded Research and Development Centers, FFRDCs) may not apply.

Federal employees are not eligible to serve in a principal leadership role on a grant.  FFRDC employees may cooperate or collaborate with eligible applicants within the limits imposed by applicable legislation and regulations.  They may participate in planning, conducting, and analyzing the research directed by the principal investigator, but may not direct projects on behalf of the applicant organization or principal investigator.  The principal investigator's institution may provide funds through its grant from EPA to a FFRDC for research personnel, supplies, equipment, and other expenses directly related to the research.  However, salaries for permanent FFRDC employees may not be provided through this mechanism.

Federal employees may not receive salaries or in other ways augment their agency's appropriations through grants made by this program.  However, federal employees may interact with grantees so long as their involvement is not essential to achieving the basic goals of the grant.1  The principal investigator’s institution may also enter into an agreement with a federal agency to purchase or utilize unique supplies or services unavailable in the private sector.  Examples are purchase of satellite data, census data tapes, chemical reference standards, analyses, or use of instrumentation or other facilities not available elsewhere, etc.  A written justification for federal involvement must be included in the application, along with an assurance from the federal agency involved which commits it to supply the specified service.

 1EPA encourages interaction between its own laboratory scientists and grant principal investigators for the purpose of exchanging information in research areas of common interest that may add value to their respective research activities.  However, this interaction must be incidental to achieving the goals of the research under a grant.  Interaction that is “incidental” is not reflected in a research proposal and involves no resource commitments.

Potential applicants who are uncertain of their eligibility should contact Jack Puzak  in NCER, phone (202) 564-6825, E-mail: puzak.jack@epa.gov.


A set of special instructions on how applicants should apply for an NCER grant is found on the NCER web site, http://www.epa.gov/ncer/rfa/forms/index.html, Standard Instructions for Submitting a STAR Application.  The necessary forms for submitting an application will be found on this web site.

Sorting Codes

The need for a sorting code to be used in the application and for mailing is described in the Standard Instructions for Submitting a STAR Application.  The sorting code for applications submitted in response to this solicitation is 2001-STAR-V1.  The deadline for receipt of the application by NCER is no later than 4:00 p.m. ET, September 17, 2001. DEADLINE EXTENDED TO SEPTEMBER 24, 2001.


Further information, if needed, may be obtained from the EPA official indicated below. E-mail inquiries are preferred.

  Maggie Breville
  Voice mail: 202-564-6893
  Fax: 202-565-2443

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