EPA announces water protection taskforce

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that it is to launch a taskforce to help federal, state and local partners to protect the nation’s drinking water system from terrorist attack.

The new water protection taskforce will be charged with providing immediate guidance to water systems on improving security. The force will identify potential gaps in infrastructure protection and preparedness, and will consult with the utility industry and the states and tribes to determine additional steps that can be taken to increase the security of the US’s drinking water supplies.

“While EPA has a strong coordinated partnership programme for protecting our drinking water, this taskforce will have specific duties to expand EPA’s service to the community water systems,” said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. “The threat of public harm from an attack on our nation’s water supply is small. Our goal here is to ensure that drinking water utilities in every community have access to the best scientific information and technical expertise they need, and to know what immediate steps to take and to whom to turn for help.”

The US has around 168,000 public water systems around the country, and should an attack be suspected, EPA can dispatch expert emergency personnel to the scene immediately anywhere in the country, as was done for the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (see related story).

The EPA has worked closely with experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the US Departments of Defence and Energy in order to develop a better understanding of potential of biological and chemical contaminants, and their fate and transport within drinking water, says the organisation. In the near future, the EPA, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and the AWWA Research Foundation will begin providing training for management and employees in the assessment of vulnerabilities in their water systems, how to guard against attacks, and how to enhance their emergency response plans.

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