Infrastructure Threats: Our Drinking Water

National Guard with Water Supplies

We often talk about the importance of water, but one area that’s often overlooked is the safety of our public water supply. How many people actually think about the purity of their water when they turn on the tap? According to a number of studies you may have a very real reason to be concerned.

Just like the many other deteriorating parts of this country’s infrastructure, our water delivery systems and treatment technology seems to be stuck in the past. Believe it or not, a large part of the U.S. still relies on pre-World War I-era water delivery systems. While these systems still do a great job filtering out particles, parasites, and bacteria, they usually fail to remove 21st century contaminants like pesticides, industrial chemicals, lead, pharmaceuticals, and arsenic.

These antiquated systems deliver water that can pose a great risk to the health and safety of those drinking it; some believe it may actually be responsible for the huge rise in food allergies that we’ve experienced over the last 10 years.

If steps are not taken to fix this situation, our drinking water will get worse and it will continue to pose a significant risk to the public’s health.

What’s really in the Water Supply?

water infrastructure

Researchers who analyze our drinking water have found some pretty disturbing things. In one study, where researchers analyzed more than 10,000 Americans, they found that over 2,200 of the subjects had measurable levels of dichlorophenols in their urine. Dichlorophenols are chemicals that are used in weed killers and commercial pesticides.

Sadly, Dichlorophenols are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what’s been found in our public water supplies.

  • Public utility testing records show that over 70 million Americans are now drinking tap water tainted by chromium 6. Chromium 6, a widely used industrial heavy metal, is carcinogenic and has been shown to cause cancer in rats and mice that drink the contaminated water.
  • Hormone-disrupting chemicals have been found in Drinking Water throughout the country. Endocrine disruptors, which are being found in just about every municipal water supply in the country, are suspected of causing declining sperm counts, infertility, obesity, gender changes, cancers, retarded sexual development, and impaired memory or intelligence in children.
  • Lead is still a huge problem. Much of our nation’s water is still transported through old corroded lead pipes. Lead in drinking water has been proven to cause learning disorders and severe developmental delays.
  • Pharmaceuticals are increasingly showing up in the nation’s water supply. A huge assortment of pharmaceuticals have made its way into our public drinking water including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood altering medications, and sex hormones. It’s estimated that at least 41 million Americans are drinking water tainted with pharmaceuticals.

The list above is just a fraction of what can be found in our water supply, and the list keeps growing every day. As the world’s dependence on chemicals grows, our water supplies will continue to feel the effects, which inevitably will touch every person on this planet.

The Threat of Terrorism & Biological Sabotage

Water Treatment Plant

Most people mistakenly assume our public water utilities are safe; shockingly, they are one of the most vulnerable parts of our nation’s infrastructure.

The vulnerability of our nation’s water supplies, to disruption and contamination by potential terrorist, has been well documented. During a series of tests in Atlanta, GA., water officials demonstrated how easily our public water systems could become compromised. Using a typical city fire hydrant, and a process known as backflow, the experts demonstrated that in a matter of minutes an entire cities water system could be contaminated by just about any biological agent or chemical.

With common equipment that can be purchased at just about any hardware store in the country, our water supplies can easily be contaminated, putting millions of people at risk. In 2003, a FBI bulletin warned that al-Qaeda has plans to poison food and water supplies in the U.S.

Over the last ten years, a number of water treatment plants have been breached or threatened, indicating that water infrastructure networks are a prime target for terrorists.

  • June 2002: Janesville, Wis. Workers found the barbed wire perimeter fence of the local water utility cut and the pad lock to a five million gallon storage tank cut. No direct evidence of contamination was found but the tank was drained and chlorinated as a precaution.
  • July 2002: Federal officers arrested two al-Qaeda operatives in Denver with documents detailing plans to contaminate the country’s water supplies.
  • December 2002: al-Qaeda operatives were arrested with plans to attack water networks in neighborhoods surrounding the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
  • January 2003: At a water treatment plant in Florida, someone crossed a barbed-wire fence, broke open an entry gate, and removed aerator screens. State officials reviewing the case described it as a “professional job” that could have affected the water in more than 4,000 homes.
  • October 2003: A vial of highly concentrated ricin was found at the Greenville, S.C., post office along with a note threatening to poison the city’s water system with ricin if certain demands were met.
  • 2004: FBI and Homeland Security issue a bulletin warning that terrorists were trying to recruit workers at water utilities as part of a plan to poison our drinking water.
  • 2011: Russian hackers reportedly penetrated the network of a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition System (SCADA) vendor and were able to tamper with  SCADA-controlled water pumps over a two to three-month period.
  • 2012: A U.S. Hacker penetrated the network of a South Houston, Texas, water-treatment plant to after reading about the hack on a Springfield Illinois water plant.

These breaches show how vulnerable our water supply is, and highlight the fact that there are people out there actively looking for ways to contaminate it.

The bottom line is this: Our public drinking water infrastructure is deteriorating, it’s filled with chemicals, and it’s actively being targeted by terrorists. If our government doesn’t start taking this threat seriously, our contaminated drinking water could become one of the largest threats we face.

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    • Distilling removes some things (like chorine) but not others (like heavy metals and fluoride). Anything not removed by distillation becomes more concentrated. As the water evaporates there’s less water to dilute those materials.

      • To eliminate the lower boiling point chemicals you need to vent the process. That means that you get the water to a rolling boil and allow the vapors of the lower boiling point chemicals to vent off before you start the distillation process. Make sense?

        • Regardless of any and all attempts to purify ones water some whack a loon will figure a way around it. What amazes me is that most of us aren’t more effected by all the toxins. I expect some day to reach down and find that “my boys” will have disappeared but on the positive side i’ll have a lovely pair of knockers to occupy my time.

        • So what’s the solution? Nothing is 100%. I think that the possible pesticides contaminants will contribute to the overall effect to your system not the survival aspect. Hell, our own water treatment facilities can’t guarantee more pure water treatment than any of the other “back up” survival techniques.

        • I believe that a combination of:
          1. Boiling for at least 2 minutes
          2. Carbon filtering.
          3. Distillation
          will provide drinking water that is pure enough to use.

          If you want Really clean, I’d go with using a filter with Silver nanoparticles, since it can decompose toxic halo-organic compounds such as pesticides and reverse osmosis.

          The water that comes out of this process IS clean, but not suitable for drinking since it doesn’t contain any minerals or salts which can cause dehydration.


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