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It’s something I don’t like to think about–but I have to as part of my job.

In the United States, we consider safe, clean drinking water to be a normal part of life. But there are some bad people in the world. People who want to harm us, or cause panic and chaos. Since 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security required public water systems to perform risk assessments to find our vulnerabilities. And to take steps protect our water systems.

We’ve made a lot of improvements (I can’t tell you what they are due to security reasons) but nobody has a completely secure system.

Professor Abraham Katzir, a physisict at Tel Aviv University, developed a new system to protect drinking water supplies. Professor Katzir created special fibers that can detect colors in the infared spectrum. People can’t see colors in this spectrum, though certain animals like bats and snakes can, and use them to track prey.

Professor Katzir

Professor Katzir

By connecting the special fibers to a colorimeter, Professor Katzir was able to detect poisons in the water at very low levels.

These sensors could be used in remote locations like reservoirs, pipelines or storage tanks to detect water contamination in real time. Being able to identify threats immediately could save lives and prevent widespread panic. Let’s face it, even a chemical that was harmless could cause chaos if it made the water taste funny.

Special Fibers Can Detect Low Levels of Water Contamination

Special Fibers Can Detect Low Levels of Water Contamination

Currently, water utilities run water quality tests regularly, but no technology is in use today that can detect such a wide variety of low-level contaminants in real time.

While the threat of chemoterrorism is remote, the old saying “better safe than sorry” certainly applies here. Let’s hope Professor Katzir’s invention makes it to the street sooner rather than later.

Photos from the Tel Aviv University website.

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I was surprised last month while attending the Florida Water Resources Conference. While finishing dessert at the Awards Luncheon, I heard my name called. It seems I was elected to be a member of the Florida Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers.

Though it sounds funny–and the initiation consists of saying “Florida Select Society of Sanitary Sludge Shovelers” three times fast until the audience approves with applause–it really is quite an honor. The award’s purpose is to recognize water and wastewater industry professionals for outstanding, meritorious service above and beyond the call of duty. I’m in some good company with many long-time, well-respected water environment folks. People that I’ve admired for many years.

I now have a silver shovel pin–if I’m caught without it, I have to buy all the drinks!

But seriously, it’s wonderful to be recognized, and a member of a select group of environmental stewards.

American Water Works Company, Inc., the largest investor-owned U.S. water and sewer utility company, went on record to say that their treatment methods keep the drinking water safe from swine influenza A (H1N1). Most utility companies in the United States use similar methods to make water safe for drinking.

For water supplies that come from surface waters, such as lakes or rivers, the water is typically filtered. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires all public water suppliers to disinfect drinking water before it’s distributed to your house. These techniques are very successful at killing or removing viruses.

The flu virus is larger than many other viruses, making it even easier to capture in a filter. Influenza is also more susceptible to disinfection, so that’s another plus for the humans.

As long as you’re drinking bottled water or water from your tap, you shouldn’t have to worry about getting swine flu from the water. One thing to be careful of though–don’t drink out of the hose. Hoses may be exposed to stormwater runoff, pesticides, fertilizers or other things you don’t want in your body.

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