U.S. Water News Online
WASHINGTON -- The FBI has said U.S. water supplies can be
considered a "logical target for a possible terrorist attack,"
although authorities know of no credible threat to poison the
nation's drinking water, and carrying out such an attack would be
harder than it sounds.
At a hearing before a House of Representatives subcommittee on
potential threats to the water supply, the nation's publicly owned
water agencies also asked Congress to spend $5 billion to shore up
the water supply infrastructure with the aim of protecting national
"Could our water be poisoned? Can the distribution system be shut
down? Can biological agents be placed in the system? As you know, our
water supply can be affected by a number of malicious enemies,"
Ronald Dick, director of the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection
Center, told a panel of the House Transportation and Infrastructure
"Based on available intelligence and investigative information,
there are currently no specific, credible threats to any water
distribution network. We cannot rest on that information, though,"
Law enforcement authorities have been scrambling to protect
against numerous types of potential domestic attacks in the wake of
the Sept. 11 attacks in which hijackers crashed airliners into the
twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon
The subcommittee's chairman, Tennessee Republican Rep. John
Duncan, said the men who carried out the attacks turned planes into
weapons of mass destruction. He said U.S. officials must consider the
possibility of someone turning water supplies into weapons of mass
destruction through contamination.
"One of the worst things we could do would be to exaggerate the
threat that's out there, or help create some kind of a panic
situation," Duncan said. "On the other hand, we need to look very
seriously at the situation that we now have before us and do whatever
is reasonable and responsible."
Dick said the FBI coordinates a threat-assessment process in order
to assess the credibility of any possible threat such as introducing
deadly bacteria or viruses, chemicals, or radioactive material into
"With regard to contamination by biological agents, the nation's
water supply may seem to be a logical target for a terrorist attack,"
Dick said. He added that the FBI views such an attack as "possible
but not probable," noting that a perpetrator would need large amounts
of a contaminant and knowledge of and access to key locations in the
A FRAGMENTED WATER-SUPPLY SYSTEM
"Because our supply consists of many systems, it would be
difficult for a terrorist attack to have a broad, long-term impact,"
Dick said. There are 168,000 public drinking water systems throughout
"Further, contamination of a water reservoir with a biological
agent would probably not pose a large risk to public health because
of the dilution effect, filtration and disinfection of the water," he
added. "To contaminate the water supply with a hazardous industrial
chemical, it would take a truckload of the chemical to have any
Dick said germs can cause disease by being ingested through
drinking water, but inhaling these pathogens would be more deadly. He
added that most viruses and bacteria would be rendered harmless by
the chlorination process at water treatment facilities.
Environmental Protection Agency official Marianne Horinko noted
that the EPA has created a task force aimed at helping federal,
state, and local officials better safeguard the nation's drinking
water supply from attack.
John Sullivan of the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, who
represented the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, told the
House panel U.S. drinking water utilities have been on a heightened
state of alert since Sept. 11.
But Sullivan, whose group represents utilities that provide water
to 160 million Americans, said emergency-response plans in place at
many water systems address emergencies due to natural disasters or
accidents &endash; not deliberate attacks.
Sullivan asked Congress for $5 billion to help rehabilitate the
water and waste-water treatment infrastructure to allow for better
treatment, storage, transmission, and distribution.
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