5 Oct 21:13

Whitman Announces Water Protection Task Force

WASHINGTON, Oct. 5 /U.S. Newswire/ -- EPA Administrator
Christine Whitman today announced the establishment of a water
protection task force at the Agency that will be charged with
helping federal, state and local partners to expand their tools to
safeguard the nation's drinking water supply from terrorist attack.

"While EPA already has a strong coordinated partnership program
for protecting our drinking water, this task force will have
specific duties to expand EPA's service to the community water
systems," said 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 to for help," Whitman
added.

EPA already has in place a notification system to quickly share
information among drinking water providers, the law enforcement
community (local, state and federal) and emergency response
officials. This system, developed though a public/private
partnership with the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies
(AMWA) and the FBI, alerts authorities and water system officials
to threats, potential vulnerabilities and incidents. This type of
notification went out as an FBI alert after the attacks on the
Pentagon and the World Trade Center. EPA has given the AMWA a
$600,000 grant to continue to improve this notification system with
a secure web-based "virtual center." The information Sharing and
Analysis Center can be accessed by all partners, including
wastewater facilities.

In the unlikely event of an attack on a water system, a drinking
water utility would activate its existing emergency response plan
with state emergency officials. If needed, these plans provide for
shutting down the system, notifying the public of any emergency
steps they might need to take (for example, boiling water) and
providing alternative sources of water.

Water systems in this nation are generally self-contained.
Unlike other utilities that are interconnected across large parts
of the nation; individual water systems serve as a defined area.
There are about 168,000 public water systems nationwide. Should an
attack be suspected, EPA can dispatch expert emergency response
personnel to the scene immediately, as was done for the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon. These experts are located in all of EPA's
ten regions and they have considerable experience in working with
local, state and federal emergency officials and are prepared to
help with monitoring, cleanup and expert advice on containments.

The water protection task force will be charged with providing
immediate guidance to water systems on improving security. That
guidance was sent out today. It will revise a draft 1998
infrastructure plan while continuing to implement the existing
strategy. And it will identify potential gaps in infrastructure
protection and preparedness. Finally, it will consult with the
utility industry and the states and tribes to determine additional
steps that can be taken to increase the security of our nation's
drinking water supplies. The first report on these additional
steps is due within two weeks.

The task force will consider how EPA can support efforts by
utilities to accelerate local vulnerability assessments and
mitigation actions. The goal is to ensure that water utilities are
undertaking the steps to understand vulnerable points and to
mitigate the threat from terrorist attacks as quickly as possible.
The task force will work to speed up the availability of new
advanced materials being prepared by EPA, other federal agencies
and private sector partners, that will be used in preparedness
efforts.

EPA has worked closely with experts at the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention and the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy
to better understand the potential of biological and chemical
contaminants, and their fate and transport within drinking water.
The information has been used to develop in-depth tools to help
water systems assess vulnerabilities in their systems, determine
actions that need to be taken to guard against an attack, and
enhance emergency response plans. Beginning in a few weeks, EPA,
along with the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and the AWWA Research Foundation, will provide training for management and
employees in these advanced approaches to drinking water systems.
 

Contact: Bonnie Piper, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 202-564-7836