POU and the war on terror

From the August 2004 edition of Water Technology magazine. For a free introductory subscription, click here.

Discover how POU/POE technology is fighting against terrorism at home and abroad.

By Tricia E. Cupp, Senior Editor, Heather B. Thomson, News Editor and Megan M. Kuziara, Associate Editor

As American troops continue an ongoing struggle against opp-osition forces in Iraq and yet another threat of a large-scaled terrorist attack in the United States prior to the November presidential elections has surfaced, Water Technology investigated how the POU/POE industry is currently playing a role in the war against terror both on American soil and in the Middle East.

POU on the move abroad While American troops serving in the Middle East are facing a wide variety of threats on a daily basis, one of the biggest concerns for these men and women is simply having a sufficient, clean and safe water supply for consumption, anywhere at any time.

Point-of-use equipment suppliers like Aspen Water, Richardson, TX, are making that possible. The company, which specializes in rapid deployable water purification systems, is currently providing equipment to all branches of the US military.

Aspen Water’s units, which can produce 1,000 to 10,000 gallons per day of purified water, have been designed to remove chemical and biological contamination, including anthrax and waterborne diseases, and can be operated from AC/DC power sources, as well as solar energy.

Global Water Group, Dallas, also provides a wide variety of equipment for military personnel overseas, including water purification units sized for applications from backpacks to trailers, and desalination equipment.

“We never know where our equipment goes. We’ll send a unit over to Fort Bragg and it will get distributed where it needs to go,” said president of Global Water, Alan Weiss.

Global Water, which has been providing equipment to the military since 1990, provides a 24-hour service line for soldiers in the event of an equipment malfunction.

In fact, Weiss indicated that Global Water has from time to time been assisting in a base camp equipment installation and heard gunshots in the background. The company has provided equipment to many interesting military environments, including the Philippines, Afghanistan and various locations in Africa.

Because conditions are not always ideal, the equipment is designed so that soldiers can go to any river, stream or pond, put a hose in the water, and 90 seconds later have pure water.

Ongoing research Evaluation of POU/POE water treatment equipment for the purpose of providing protection against possible water terrorism contamination is an ongoing process.

In fact, the US Environmental Protec-tion Agency (EPA) Environmental Tech-nology Verification (ETV) Drinking Wa-ter Systems (DWS) Center was recently awarded two grants for work on water safety as it relates to homeland security.

The ETV DWS Center, a partnership between NSF International (NSF), Ann Arbor, MI, and EPA as part of the EPA ETV program, was established to provide independent performance evaluations of drinking water treatment products, with the goal of raising awareness for new treatment technologies.

One grant focuses on evaluating POU and POE water treatment system capabilities for providing a protective barrier against possible waterborne contamination agents (see side, POU technology development and verification, below).

Key technologies
According to Water Quality Assoc-iation (WQA) Technical Director Joe Harrison, reverse osmosis (RO) and distillation have been proven to take out the largest variety of contaminants or terrorist agents most completely.

Activated carbon blocks are also effective at preventing most contaminants from entering a drinking water system.

Additionally, there are systems that combine two or more of those technologies into one system. Many RO systems will have a carbon block, for example.

These POU technologies are sound for a multitude of terrorism agents, both biological and chemical in nature  the primary reason POU equipment is playing such a significant role in securing the safety of water supplies for American troops worldwide.

“RO and activated carbon are the highest tech treatment methods we have, so the Army is using them,” Harrison explained.

According to Ed Atchley of Aspen Water, which has provided millions of dollars worth of lightweight water purification equipment to the US military to combat chemical and biological contaminants, the military is using both RO and multi-media water treatment systems for the removal of contaminants such as mercury, lead and arsenic. Treatment systems also use high levels of ultraviolet (UV) light to insure disinfection.

Water terrorism at home
Although not on the front-lines of the war on terror, POU/POE professionals can play a key role when it comes to keeping the nation’s drinking water supply safe in uncertain times.

According to H. Court Young, author of Understanding Water and Terrorism, the threat to our nation’s water supply comes in two forms: preventing access to our water supply or contaminating the water source, leaving it undrinkable.

Contamination of a water source can be accomplished using bacterial, viral, radiological or chemical agents, with the biggest concern nationwide being the contamination of a water reservoir or other open storage source.

Many water systems, especially small systems under 3,000 hookups, simply don’t have the ability or the resources to protect intake structures and clearwells, Young explained.

Point-of-use water treatment systems, on the other hand, can provide consumers with an extra level of protection.

“Home treatment adds a final barrier of protection to terrorism agents, or any kind of contamination that is being looked at by consumers,” said WQA’s Harrison.

POU dealers must step forward
“Terrorism is not about killing people,” explained Young. “Terrorism is essentially about not allowing people to trust the infrastructure they rely on, whether it is electrical or water.”

One way to combat consumers’ fears of water contamination that could potentially paralyze the public if something were to occur is a strong public knowledge of their water supply and treatment.

According to Young, the more that water treatment dealers and suppliers can reach the public advising them about the services they provide as well as the potential consequences of various contaminants, the better the industry would be able to handle a threatening situation.

“We need a far more educated public about our water sources, water supply, the equipment involved and people involved,” Young said. “Only then can we make logical, rational decisions.”

Whether or not the need for water filtration products and services increases in the coming months and years due to continued terrorist threats depends on consumer fears.

“If terrorism gets to be an increasing threat, or there happens to be an act of terrorism against drinking water, then [POU sales] will definitely increase,” said WQA’s Harrison.

Using the latest in water technology can help allay the public’s fears in the meantime.

“While you can’t be 100 percent safe, people feel safer when they have what they consider a back-up treatment,” said Young.

POU = Point Of Use; POE = Point Of Entry