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The Health Ministry Thursday warned thousands of people against drinking tap water or using it for cooking following a modification of the regulations regarding the permissible concentration of Nitrates in drinking water.

The warning is a bureaucratic move that stems from a regulation alteration, made in 2000, according to which the permissible level of nitrates per liter of water was changed from 90 mg to 70 mg.

Water providers were given five years to comply with the new regulation.

The warning concerns residents of Moshav Bnei Dror and Kfar Yedidya in the Sharon, Beit Oved, and neighborhoods in Hod Hasharon and Even Yehuda.

According to Shalom Goldberger, the Health Ministry's chief environmental engineer, the tap water in those areas has nitrate levels that exceed the permitted maximum only "slightly," and does not carry the severe health risks that higher concentrations would entail.

Residents of Moshav Bnei Dror have been forced for the last week to rely on container trucks or bottled water to obtain water for drinking and cooking, after the Health Ministry detected an excessive concentration of nitrates in the well that normally serves the Moshav.

Residents complained that they were not notified via the media that the water in their taps was unsafe, as is standard practice; instead, they learned about the problem only when they found a notice in their post office boxes. But since many moshav residents do not check their post office boxes every day, several of them learned about the problem only about a week ago - even though Health Ministry official Etti Burla had sent a letter to the moshav secretary on December 24 telling him that the water was unfit to drink and asking him to notify residents.

Moshav secretary Effi Reuven stresses the announcements were distributed to post office boxes and were also posted on the internet.

According to Burla's letter, the nitrate level in the well has been rising gradually for the last year, and now exceeds the level deemed fit for drinking. However, Bnei Dror is not slated to be hooked up to Mekorot Water Company - which would provide it with safe tap water - by June 2007