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Responding to WATER Contamination Threats Planning ahead is the key to dealing with potential terrorism. ANTHONY FERNANDEZ M ATTHEW L . M AGNUSON STEV EN C. ALLGEIER U.S. EPA BART KOCH RICARDO DE LEON METROPOLITA N WATER DISTRICT OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA RONALD HUNSINGER EAST BAY MUNICIPAL UTILIT Y DISTRICT © 2005 American Chemical Society W ater terrorism—through intentional or threatened contamination of a drinking-water system— can undermine public health, economic well-being, societal func
  © 2005 American Chemical Society   Responding    to   WATER ContaminationThreats Planning ahead is the key todealing with potential terrorism. MATTHEW L. MAGNUSONSTEVEN C. ALLGEIER U.S. EPA BART KOCHRICARDO DE LEON  METROPOLITAN WATER DISTRICT OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA RONALD   HUNSINGER EAST BAY MUNICIPAL UTILITY DISTRICT  W ater terrorism—through intention-al or threatened contamination of a drinking-water system— can un-dermine public health, economic well-being, societal functioning,and the environment. Not only can consumers be-come ill or die, but water contamination could alsocut off water needed for other vital uses such as foodpreparation, sanitation, fire fighting, agriculture,and industry. Although some goals of water terror-     A    N    T    H    O    N    Y    F    E    R    N    A    N    D    E    Z APRIL 1, 2005 / ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY ■ 153A  and other major water supply organizations. Regu-latory, public health, and water utility officials as well as representatives from federal, state, and lo-cal drinking-water laboratories and organizationsserved as technical reviewers. Because the RPTBis a consensus document, it integrates many view-points. Thus, although specific opinions may differ,the RPTB is a unique source for providing practical,collective insight into how to respond to drinking- water terrorism. In the toolbox The RPTB is divided into six modules. Each discuss-es a different aspect of the response process. Notevery contamination threat or incident requiresthe use of all six modules. The modules can beused separately or in combination by groups suchas water utilities, analytical laboratories, emer-gency responders, state drinking-water programs,source water protection programs, public healthofficials, EPA and other federal agencies, and law enforcement. Because it is important that all us-ers be informed about the overall response process,modules aimed at a specific user group also briefly discuss relevant response aspects that are more ful-ly described in modules tailored toward other usergroups. Although the RPTB does not necessarily assessor recommend technologies from specific manu-facturers, it lists   a mixture of the currently avail-able types, ranging from low- to high-tech. In addi-tion, desired characteristics of emerging environ-mental technologies are discussed. For the sake of this article, low- and mid-tech approaches repre-sent applications of fairly mature, reliable technol-ogies, while high-tech methods involve cutting-edge engineering and science.   Furthermore, “no-tech” refers to an approach that has no technology or uses technology in a simple manner. Water Utility    Planning Guide. Module 1   is a wa-ter utility planning guide, which describes the ac-tivities that a utility    could   undertake to prepare forcontamination threats and incidents ( 7  ). Most of these planning activities, which are summarized inTable 1, involve no- or low-tech approaches from anenvironmental technology standpoint, but modernelectronic, information, and telecommunicationstechnology can enhance planning.The planning activity of understanding a watersystem in terms of its construction, design, opera-tion, personnel, and critical customers illustratespotential benefits of higher-tech approaches. Spe-cifically, the use of high-tech geographic informa-tion system (GIS) and hydraulic models may benefitsome systems. Setting up a baseline-monitoring program is a planning activity that may rely onmid-tech analytical environmental technology. If such a baseline is not established, a normal fluctua-tion may be mistaken for a water contamination in-cident. Baseline monitoring can rely on the diligentapplication of existing, mid-tech analytical envi-ronmental technology. However, a high-tech base-line-monitoring program could be developed withonline devices to monitor potentially contaminatedism could be accomplished merely by threatening contamination, terrorists could also actually intro-duce a broad range of contaminants into the watersupply—from widely available industrial chemicalsto exotic, engineered microorganisms. Accordingly,an extensive range of affected groups, including theU.S. government, water utilities, and the general pub-lic, are increasingly aware that drinking water is acritical and interdependent component of the na-tion’s infrastructure. In 2003, a presidential directiveon homeland security designated the U.S. EPA as re-sponsible for protecting the nation’s drinking-waterand water-treatment systems ( 1 ). In 2004, a seconddirective required EPA to establish surveillance andmonitoring systems that safeguard water quality (  2  ).Traditionally, drinking-water safety has beenlinked to water quality. The possibility of terrorismdirected against the drinking-water supply has em-phasized the link between water safety and watersecurity ( 3 , 4 ). The traditional paradigm in solving  water-quality problems is to develop or adapt envi-ronmental technology, whether for prevention, re-mediation, control, analysis, or other goals.Can technology continue to provide us with theanswers we need to respond to water terrorism? Atfirst glance, the very reasonable answer would bea resounding “yes”, because responding to an in-tentional water contamination threat or incidentseems to be straightforward and purely technologi-cal: The “event” is captured through appropriatesample collection, and the response follows direct-ly from sample analysis. However, no reliable tech-nology on the market today can rapidly and reliably provide the substantial amount of water-quality information needed to make a response decisionbased solely on analytical data.In lieu of the perfect technology, EPA developedthe Response Protocol Toolbox (RPTB) ( 5  ). This non-binding guidance based on existing technology isdesigned to help water utilities and other organiza-tions address the complex, multifaceted challengesencountered during planning for and responding to the threat or act of intentional contamination of drinking water. EPA developed the RPTB as part of its Water Security Research and Technical Support Action Plan ( 6  ) with the help of a working group, which included water utility professionals and of-ficials from the American Water Works Association     P    H    O    T    O    D    I    S    C 154A ■ ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY / APRIL 1, 2005   water that rapidly travels through a system. Onlinemonitors are appealing, but experts debate their ef-fectiveness, costs, and benefits as a contaminant warning system ( 8 , 9  ). Many organizations, includ-ing EPA’s National Homeland Security ResearchCenter ( 10  ) through its Distribution System Re-search Consortium, are actively engaged in researchto advance the goal of online monitoring ( 11 ). Contamination Threat Management Guide. Module 2 is the centerpiece of the RPTB ( 12  ). It pre-sents the overarching framework for managing contamination threats to the drinking-water sup-ply. Because appropriate management is integralto solving any water crisis, the response principlesdiscussed in Module 2 can guide activities beyondthe primary focus of the RPTB, such as implement-ing EPA responsibilitiesunder the homeland se-curity presidential di-rectives ( 1 , 2  ).To successfully re-spond to all types of crises, decision makershave historically reliedon the principles of care-ful planning and eval-uation of available infor-mation.   Module 2 ex-tends these tried-and-true principles to watercontamination threatmanagement, which in-volves several interre-lated activities: planning a management responseprior to an incident, eval-uating the threat’s cred-ibility, and making de-cisions regarding appro-priate actions to take inresponse to the threat.Figure 1 on the next pagerepresents these interre-lated activities and illus-trates the fact that re-sponse actions intensify as threat credibility in-creases. As described inthe following few para-graphs, crisis manage-ment   activities do notnecessarily inherently require technology, al-though contaminationthreat management may call upon the technolo-gies described in othermodules of the RPTB.The first activity isplanning a response tounknown threats—adaunting task becausesuch an immense num-ber of potential biologi-cal, chemical, and radiological contaminants exist.Fortunately, as described by the World Health Orga-nization, it is neither possible nor necessary to planfor an attack by all possible contaminants; rather,planning and preparation to counter the effects of such an attack can provide the capabilities to deal with a wide range of possibilities ( 13 ). Accordingly,Module 2 presents management planning activi-ties, such as establishing roles and responsibilitiesof various parties under different scenarios. Theseparties must answer vital questions about who willperform response activities at a particular location.Management must also take the appropriate steps,such as those outlined in Module 1, to improve pre-paredness and responsiveness at a particular watersystem. TABLE 1 Planning activities and associated technology requirements Planning activityTechnology level required Establishing a communication and no- tification strategy to predefine com-munication pathways and notificationsystemsMay use information and communica- tion technologyEstablishing an incident command sys- tem to delineate leadership and chainof command prior to an actual threator incident (Ref. 21)May use information and communica- tion technologyPerforming training and conductingdesk/field exercises to properly applyany emergency plansLittle or no environmental technologyEnhancing physical security to signif-icantly reduce intrusions and falsealarms that would otherwise expendutility resourcesLittle or no environmental technology;may use low- to high-tech security technologyDeveloping an information managementstrategy to provide timely and accu-rate information for evaluating thecredibility of a threat and taking steps to protect public health as necessarySome environmental technology, mostly to reduce data to useful informationUpdating emergency response plans tocover terrorist threats, including in- tentional contaminationLittle environmental technologyDeveloping streamlined response guide-lines to support responders and deci-sion makers in the midst of a crisisLittle environmental technologyEstablishing a program to monitor thebaseline, which accounts for normalfluctuations in water-quality data orconsumer complaints and which mayindicate a potential problemMid-tech environmental technology formost cases; high-tech needed if per-formed through online monitoringUnderstanding water-system construc- tion, design, operation, personnel, andcritical customers; applying this in-formation to assess vulnerabilities tocontamination threatsLittle environmental technology in mostcases; high-tech hydraulic and geo-graphic information system modelingmay be helpfulUsing and understanding data fromonline monitors of water-qualityparameters, such as pH, chlorineresidual, and turbidity, to warn ofpotential water contaminationHigh-tech activity, especially in under-standing both water monitoring sys- tem fundamentals and the relationshipbetween water-quality fluctuations and the presence of specific contaminants APRIL 1, 2005 / ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY ■ 155A  Evaluating the credibility of a threat, the sec-ond management activity, is a process that consid-ers available information to determine whether athreat is possible, credible, or a confirmed incident.The time frames for determining each of these stag-es are 1 h, 8 h, and up to several days, respectively.Therefore, decisions frequently must be made with-out complete information, leaving threat manag-ers to rely on a preponderance of evidence, not only from analytical technologies but also from carefulevaluation of sources of information, such as law enforcement, the public health community, and ob-servations at the suspected contamination site.In parallel to threat evaluation is the third man-agement activity: making decisions regarding ap-propriate actions in response to the threat. Making these decisions effectively means skillfully balanc-ing the benefits of the particular decision with theconsequences. For example, isolating a potentially contaminated storage tank from a water systemcould keep people from becoming ill, but then that water may not be available for fire fighting andsanitation. Site Characterization and Sampling Guide.  Module 3 describes how to gather information fromthe site of a suspected contamination incident at adrinking-water system ( 14 ). Site characterization ac-tivities include site investigation, field safety screen-ing, rapid field-testing of the water, and samplecollection for in-depth laboratory analysis. Most of the sampling activities described in Module 3 do notuse advanced technology but rely on classic field- work techniques. One exception is a field sampleconcentrator for microbiological species, which iscurrently in development and testing ( 6  ). This mid-tech device uses routine technology but applies it toovercome the unique challenges of collecting rep-resentative samples from the site of a suspected wa-ter contamination incident. As an example, consider a waterborne pathogen with an infectious dose of 10–100 organisms, whichmight be consumed in 500 mL of water. The techno-logical challenge is to sample a 250,000-gallon tank in a manner that can provide a meaningful resultabout whether the water is safe to use. The proposedsolution includes using a field concentrator to sam-ple a large volume of water and concentrate any or-ganisms present by several orders of magnitude.Field safety screening can detect environmentalhazards that might pose a threat to the site charac-terization team. For example, radioactivity can bemonitored as the team approaches the site. Rapidfield-testing involves water analysis during the sitecharacterization to tentatively identify contami-nants or unusual water quality. Table 2 lists the ge-neric types of available field-screening and rapidfield-testing kits. The target parameter for screening and rapid water testing may be a specific contami-nant; a contaminant class; or a general indicator,such as chlorine residual, of potential changes in water quality.The core kit includes the equipment necessary toconduct the recommended minimum level of fieldsafety screening and rapid water testing (Table 2).Note that these technologies are fairly well estab-lished, are considered highly reliable, and may beclassified as low- to mid-tech. Additional, less-prov-en, higher-tech approaches that might be used forexpanded field-testing are also listed in Table 2.One unfortunate characteristic of the high-techexpanded field-testing technologies is that they canhave propensities for false positives and false nega-tives. An example is a recent study of rapid toxicity assays, which will not detect many contaminants of concern and yet respond to compounds such as cop-per and chlorine ( 15  ). Another study of field-testing technologies for drinking-water security investiga-tions highlighted the need for further research andtesting ( 16  ). Thus, the better available technology forfield safety screening and field-testing can actually below-tech, because high-tech solutions can create ad- Planning and preparationThreat warningInitial threat evaluationIs threatpossible?Immediate operationalresponse actionsSite characterization andsamplingIs threatcredible?Public health responseactionsSample analysisIs incidentconfirmed?Remediation and recovery     T    h   r   e   a   t   e   v   a    l   u   a   t    i   o   n    p   r   o   c   e   s   s     E   x   p   a   n    d   e    d    r   e   s   p   o   n   s   e    a   c   t    i   o   n   s FIGURE 1 Overview of threat managementactivities Module 2 emphasizes careful planning and evalua- tion of available information and is considered thecenterpiece of the Response Protocol Toolbox. Build-ing on the strategies presented in Module 2, this dia-gram shows how response actions expand as threatcredibility increases. 156A ■ ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY / APRIL 1, 2005
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