EPA says anthrax risk to water systems small

Updated: Thu, Oct 18 2:57 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Whitman said on Thursday the risk of water contamination by anthrax or other biological or chemical hazards was small.

"That would take truckloads of anthrax to be introduced to a major water supply system to have an impact on the public," Whitman said after touring a suburban Maryland water testing laboratory.

"That is very unlikely for anyone to have that much anthrax and do it in that fashion," Whitman said. She said smallpox contamination was also a minimal threat due to normal water chlorination procedures.

Whitman spoke as much of the Capitol was closed for sanitary sweeps after 31 people tested positive for anthrax exposure.

The contamination arrived in an anthrax-tainted letter at the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle on Monday.

Only six other people have tested positive for the disease out of thousands who have been tested in Florida, New York and Washington just a month after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

The hijack attacks, which killed nearly 5.400 people, have touched off concern about the security of the nation's transport, nuclear, water and other infrastructure.

Many water companies have since tightened security and Whitman said the increased vigilance would make it difficult for someone to taint water supplies.

She said water companies generally test for many more chemical and biological substances in the water than the roughly 40 required by federal regulations.

Should disaster strike, she said the EPA was ready to respond with guidance, water analysis and recovery.