The latest outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease have already cost South Korea $2.6 billion, and the latest victim could be its bottled water industry.

South Korea has been dealing with the highly contagious and sometimes fatal disease since late in 2010.  Cloven-hoofed animals, including pigs, sheep, and goats, are the target of the disease.

It usually does not poise a threat to humans.

However, combating FMD means many burial sites for culled animals. That, according to the Citizen’s Institute for Environmental Studies (CIES), means bottled water from South Korea’s Gyeonggi Province could be contaminated with the foot-and-mouth disease virus.

The threat has gained widespread attention through South Korea’s newspapers and news agencies.  

Cows and pigs with foot-and-mouth disease were buried near four drinking water plants in Pocheon and Yeoncheon, according to CIES.  The group fears fluid leaks from the burial sites will reach the underground water zone.

Such leakage could include both viruses and organic matter that could result in the bottled water being contaminated, so the theory goes.  Natural waters in the area are why it is desirable to bottlers.

South Korea is currently on “yellow” alert for FMD, the second lowest level on its four-tier system. The last burial of livestock was on March 21 when the alert level was on “orange.”

South Korea has been through this before. FMD outbreaks similar to this one occurred in both 2000 and 2002.   The value of all the animals put down is estimated at 3 trillion won or $2.6 billion in U.S. dollars.

CIES wants the government to conduct a full-scale inspection of all FMD burial sites to check for water leakage and penetration into underground water sources.

The government has implemented a new livestock permit system that takes effect next year.  It will place greater responsibility on farms to prevent future outbreaks.  First to fall under the new system in 2012 will be livestock breeders, chick hatcheries, and large farms.