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The most recent terrorist attacks targeting the interests of the United States have been directed at constructed facilities. Examples include the federal building in Oklahoma City, the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon, some Postal facilities, Congressional Offices and the two US embassies in Africa. The destruction of infrastructure facilities is frequently an attack on the US Government and the US economy.

Among the most critical infrastructure areas needing protection are our nations potable water treatment and distribution systems and wastewater collection and treatment systems. There is no need to explain the magnitude of the terror that would be experienced in our community if we were to wake up one morning and find out that we could not use our drinking water system or our wastewater system. During natural disasters such as hurricane Andrew local areas have had to resort to the use of bottled water and portable toilets for relatively brief periods of time, but, during a wide spread terrorist attack, large population areas as well as hospitals, nursing homes, etc. might be severely affected.

One particularly troubling scenario involves the intentional introduction of a harmful agent into the potable water distribution system or a wastewater collection system. While there is a need for utilities to have some capability for conducting security based analyses, especially during periods of heightened alert, standard methods of analyses are limited in this regard.

This manuscript describes, evaluates and discusses some of the commercially available field analytical techniques (devices) that a response team from a utility, or other agency, could use to test for the presence of acutely hazardous substances in potable drinking water treatment, storage and distribution systems. These same techniques may also be applied to wastewater collection and treatment systems.

The technologies discussed in this manuscript include:

Rapid immunoassays

Rapid enzyme tests

Rapid PCR (polymerase chain reaction) techniques

Field deployable GC-MS (gas chromatograph – mass spectrometry)

Acute toxicity screening methods

The specific equipment brands and manufacturers described in this paper do not represent all of the technology that is currently available.

Although the technology is developing rapidly, it must be emphasized, however, that the results of any of the rapid, broad spectrum monitoring and analytical techniques must be interpreted with caution. Negative results do not guarantee the safety, while positive results merely indicate the need for additional testing and communication with regulators and other officials.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2005-01-01

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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