The American Water Works Association (AWWA) joins U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christine Todd Whitman in assuring the public that the nation's drinking water is safe and highly unlikely to be compromised in the event of a terrorist attack. Ms. Whitman spoke today about potential threats to the nation's water supply at a press conference in the Washington, D.C., area.
"As Ms. Whitman pointed out, water utilities have long taken extensive precautions to prevent against a threat to the security of public drinking water," said AWWA Executive Director Jack Hoffbuhr. "But that doesn't mean utilities should be complacent, and they are not. Indeed, water utilities large and small and in every part of the U.S. have further heightened their security systems and procedures since the deadly and devastating terrorist attacks of Sept. 11."
Hoffbuhr pointed out that many highly effective safeguards have long been and remain in place to detect and eliminate harmful toxins. As for anthrax specifically, filtration is effective at removing it from drinking water. "Water is an especially poor delivery system for anthrax," Hoffbuhr said.
He added it would take enormous quantities of most potentially harmful chemical agents to successfully compromise a water system. "Most systems have so much water and such effective treatment mechanisms, that anything less than many tankers full of dangerous agents would be diluted and easily neutralized. It is hard to imagine that anyone would have the ability to deliver such quantities effectively and without detection."
Water utilities, Hoffbuhr noted, have long been vigilant about and prepared for security encroachments. But since September 11, they have been on heightened alert and put significant additional security safeguards in place. Many are
* Limiting access within and throughout utility treatment and storage facilities.
* Meeting shipments at their gates and escorting them with security personnel to the plant.
* Conducting additional testing and monitoring of chemical agents delivered to the plant before they are introduced into the treatment system.
* Reassessing procedures and systems that are in place to detect security incursions.
* Providing additional training to their personnel to be alert to and to recognize the signs of a potential threat.
For its part, AWWA reissued materials on terrorism and emergency preparedness to its members and has continued to provide additional security information, resources, and training to all of America's water professionals. AWWA has also developed a series of water utility security training workshops and will be offering them to water professionals within the next month. AWWA Research Foundation has developed vulnerability assessment tools and will be working with member utilities and the EPA to provide this tool to utilities.
"Local water utilities are also prepared with plans to inform the public immediately in the event of any sort of emergency that would affect the water supply", Hoffbuhr said. "These plans have been effective in the past for natural disasters and other local events."
"While water utilities today are well-equipped to protect the public against threats to their drinking water," Hoffbuhr said, "important consideration must be given to the long-term, general security and well-being of the nation's drinking water infrastructure. Much needs to be done over the next several decades to replace an aging infrastructure and that must meet the demands of a growing population."