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2012 EPA Research Progress Report

Protecting Drinking Water Supplies

The vast majority of Americans need look no further than their kitchen faucet to find clean, safe, and abundant drinking water. The nation’s water distribution system is a model of success for delivering this vital resource in ways that also protect public health. That success is underscored by the need for constant vigilance to protect water sources and distribution systems from deliberate or accidental contamination. This was a fact that became clear in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent mailing of anthrax-tainted letters to U.S. Senators and media outlets.

EPA is the primary federal agency responsible for treating drinking water and decontaminating drinking water infrastructure in the event of a terrorist attack or other incident involving chemical, radiological, or biological agents introduced into the water supply. These responsibilities are supported by scientific and engineering research conducted in EPA’s Homeland Security Research program.

Need to Know:
Helping Water Utilities Prepare

As the lead federal agency for water security, EPA researchers play a critical role in helping their partners at water utilities and in the response community better prepare for emergencies. In 2012, EPA’s National Homeland Security Research Center and the Water Information Sharing and Analysis Center (WaterISAC) teamed up to deliver the webcast “Anticipating the Public’s Questions during a Water Emergency.” The webcast provided practical information that drinking water utilities can use in formulating effective communication plans. These plans can then be employed during a water contamination event.

EPA also released a companion publication, Need to Know: Water Emergency Questions, presenting practical information that crisis communicators can directly apply to planning and response. The publication is the result of a series of interviews and webinars EPA conducted to identify the anticipated information needs of water utilities and the public following events that threaten the safety of drinking water. The report it available for downloading at:1.usa.gov/QoyLtF.

EPA researchers are developing the scientific and technical solutions needed to secure and sustain the nation’s water systems. A primary goal of that work is to prevent or minimize the impact of any attempted or actual contamination event. This is done through the development of monitoring and early warning technologies and software to provide system-wide, real time surveillance.

In 2012, EPA researchers continued to advance the Agency’s award-winning CANARY Event Detection software, a technology that serves as an early warning system for water utilities. CANARY is used to quickly distinguish between day-to-day variations in water chemistry and those variations from a contamination event. Researchers are pursuing ways to tap information collected simultaneously from multiple locations (rather than each location separately). In addition, researchers released a Quick Start Guide to make the software more accessible and user-friendly by providing step-by-step, downloadable instructions.

Along with threat detection and monitoring tools, EPA scientists and engineers are also working to help water utilities, communities, and the public be better prepared to respond and recover (decontaminate and clean up) once contamination occurs. To learn how to better respond to biothreat agents in drinking water, they studied the effectiveness of chlorination and chloramination for destroying anthrax.

EPA researchers develop monitoring and early warning technologies as well as help utilities and communities prepare response for potential contamination events.

They also developed a standard protocol—the Standardized Persistence and Decontamination Experimental Design Protocol—that research laboratories across the country can follow when investigating the decontamination of water pipes. The use of such a protocol will facilitate comparability of research findings across studies and advance consistency and confidence in decontaminating water infrastructure.

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