The FBI has extended its terrorist threat advisory to water utilities through Dec. 11. Although the FBI knows of "no specific credible threats" to water supplies, it encouraged utilities to maintain security at "critical nodes" such as tunnels, pumping and storage facilities, and distribution systems.
In view of the heightened interest in water supply threats, we have indicated 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 Environ-mental Protection Agency, Center for Disease Control, state administrators and American Water Works Association already are 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 front line defense against these potential health threats is resting in the hands of the local-level water utility managements and their central treatment processes and analytical procedures.
Potential bacterial, viral and chemical sabotage substances never have 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 2 microns to 6 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.
Based in Lisle, Ill., the WQA is a not-for-profit international trade association representing the household, commercial, industrial and small community water treatment industry. For more information, visit the association's Web site at www.wqa.org.