The Water Quality Association Addresses Terrorism and America's Water Supplies

Oct. 17, 2001

The FBI has just extended its terrorist threat advisory to water utilities through December 11. Although the FBI knows of "no specific credible threats" to water supplies, they encouraged utilities to maintain security at "critical nodes" such as tunnels, pumping and storage facilities, and distribution systems.

In view of the high interest in water supply threats, the Water Quality Association here indicates the potential utility of commonly available home filtration systems in meeting some conceivable terrorist-induced pathogens.

Many possible toxic biological organisms and chemical substances could be introduced into our water supplies. The USEPA, CDC, state administrators, and American Water Works Association are already working with water utilities to increase their vigilance of source water investigations, security measures, and analyses to make sure they can detect these agents. The first defense against these potential health threats is in the hands of the local water utility management and their central treatment processes and analytical procedures.

Potential bacterial, viral, and chemical sabotage substances have never been encountered in waters. Therefore, tests for them have not been incorporated into drinking water treatment unit product designs or performance standards. This means that no drinking water treatment products have been tested and certified for their effectiveness in reducing these exotic chemical or biological health threats.

However, it is important to note that commonly available water plant and home distillation, reverse osmosis (RO), ultraviolet light (UV), and fine filtration units may provide protection barriers against many of these agents. For example, anthrax spores are two to six microns in size, similar to protozoan cysts. Products tested and certified for their effectiveness in cyst reduction would likely also effectively reduce anthrax.

Likewise, many biological organisms are inactivated by heat in point-of-use (household) distillation units. Similarly, UV light in many products disrupts the reproduction mechanism in microorganisms, rendering them inactive as well. RO units and carbon filters may reject or adsorb toxic chemical compounds -- although they may not have been specifically tested for a particular chemical.

In conclusion, no current water treatment product can claim specific ability to eliminate any terrorist- introduced bioorganism or chemical. However, it is important to note that commonly available water treatment products may provide some level of benefit to the user.

Source: Water Quality Association

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