Activists who strike out in the name of the environment or animal rights could find themselves labeled terrorists under a new law. The GLRC’s Lester Graham reports:
Activists who strike out in the name of the environment or animal rights
could find themselves labeled terrorists under a new law. The GLRC’s
Lester Graham reports:
State governments and activists across the nation will be watching this
so-called ‘eco-terrorism’ law when it goes into effect in Pennsylvania.
You’re considered an eco-terrorist if you’re involved in civil
disobedience against firms that extract resources, do agricultural research
or animal experimentation. The law also increases penalties for crimes
such as trespassing and vandalism.
Larry Frankel is with the American Civil Liberties Union. He says the
new law tosses around the term terrorist too loosely…
“It not only is unfairly targeting some people as terrorists, it’s really
cheapening the use of the term ‘terrorism’ and it’s going to become at
some point– the government’s going to be crying ‘Wolf,’ calling
everything they don’t like ‘terrorism.’”
The law is in response to activists who’ve destroyed labs and property.
Frankel thinks the law will actually incite those who’ve used such tactics
to go even further.
These ear tags are becoming a thing of the past as states try out high-tech identification chips. (Photo courtesy of the USDA)
The federal government is phasing in a national identification tracking system for livestock to help trace and curb threats, such as Mad Cow disease and even bio-terrorism. One state is even advancing what it calls micro-chip, injectable social security numbers for livestock. But many farmers worry that Big Brother may be moving into the barn. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Joyce Kryszak reports:
The federal government is phasing in a national identification tracking system for livestock to help trace and curb threats, such as Mad Cow disease and even bio-terrorism. One state is even advancing, what it calls micro-chip, injectable social security numbers for livestock. But many farmers worry that Big Brother may be moving into the barn. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Joyce Kryszak reports:
The Gingerich Farm isn’t hard to find. Its fields are speckled with hundreds of black and white Holsteins. Dairy farmer Earl Gingerich Jr. takes us inside one of the barns for a closer look at some of his babies.
“These are a little noisy over here since we just moved ’em. Some of them tend to bellow…”
Gingerich is rather fond of the five hundred cows on his Western New York farm, and he doesn’t mind the hard work that goes along with them. Seven days a week, in good weather and bad. For him, Gingerich says it’s all about the cows.
“When you get up and you see the animals that are in the background and they’re waiting for you to take care of them and they need you, it’s like having a pet around, and taking that animal and yougrow her up to be a full-size, adult animal, you know why you’re doing it.”
So, Gingerich says anything he can do to protect his herd is a good idea. He takes part in the state’s voluntary vaccination program. Bright orange tags, each bearing a bold black number, are evidence of that. They dangle from the cows’ ears as they flick away barn flies while chewing the newest cut of hay.
(Sound of mooing)
But these tags will soon be obsolete. By 2009, the Department of Agriculture’s national animal identification program will require a standardized tracking system for every livestock animal in the United States.
Bruce Akey is an Assistant Veterinarian for New York state. He says the system will be able to trace the movements of animals backwards and forwards.
“Whether they’re sold to someone else on an individual basis, or they go to livestock markets, or go to slaughter plants, or anything like that, those movements can be recorded at those points at which they pass into commerce, and those movements can also be recorded in a national database.”
It’s the integrity of that database that is one major concern for many farmers and their advocates. They say animal rights extremists or terrorists could also get access to the information on the database about farms.
Farmers worry they could learn about chemicals and medicines used at the farm, and use it against them. Dairy farmer Earl Gingerich knows first-hand what can happen. Someone used a batch of antibiotics to contaminate ten thousand pounds of milk on his farm.
“We did have on a recording, which we couldn’t trace, and it said something to the effect of, ‘This should teach you a lesson now.'”
One microchip ID method being advanced in New York and other states is heightening bio-security concerns. The radio frequency chips can are embedded in ear tags or injected under the animals’ skin.
The stored data is read by large panel scanners at auction barns or hand held models, available to anyone. The cost is also still a big question. Maybe a few dollars for each chip and about five thousand dollars for large readers.
Peter Gregg is spokesman for the state’s Farm Bureau. He says they support a national tracking system, but Gregg says the government will have to make it secure – and pay for it.
“You know, we are operating on too slim of margins as it is to be able to pick up the tab for a program like this, and the other aspect is that we would have to make sure that there is protection of private rights.”
State veteranarian Bruce Akey says the government is listening to those concerns. He says they’re working to make the program cost-neutral or at least share costs with farmers. And Akey says Congress is hearing arguments that a private entity, such as a cooperative, should be allowed to manage the database. Advocates say they prefer that to the government being in charge of private information. But Akey says either way, there has to be a dependable way to track animals.
“It may seem a little like 1984, but it’s the state of technology, it’s the state of the marketplace – on both a national and an international scope,” said Akey. “That along with the fact that we now have diseases like Mad Cow disease and other food safety issues that more and more consumers are demanding that we be able to trace these animals and address the source of the problem.”
For now, states are rushing to comply with the first phase of the national ID program. By March of next year, every livestock and poultry farm in the country must be located and assigned a premises identification number. Then, each and every farm creature – be it cow or horse, elk or fish – will get its very own animal social security number.
Federal officials began taking information off government websites after the September 11th attacks. They feared terrorists would use the information to plan future attacks. Now, a new study says much of that information wouldn’t be useful to terrorists. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush explains:
Federal officials began taking information off government websites after the
September 11th attacks. They feared terrorists would use the information to
plan future attacks. Now a new study says much of that information wouldn’t
be useful to terrorists. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush has
Researchers at the Rand Corporation spent a year analyzing 629 federal
websites. They looked at sites that had information about things such as
bridges, power plants, transit systems, and chemical factories. They found
that less than one percent of the websites they analyzed had information that
would be useful for a terrorist to mount an attack.
Beth Lachman co-authored the study. She says agencies need to develop
better methods before pulling information off of their websites:
“Stuff that we think may be very sensitive may not be quite as sensitive as
you thought. Just because you have to really analyze, ‘Well how useful is
this? How unique is it? Is it out there in a lot of different sources? What
are the cost and benefits associated with putting it out there and
potentially restricting it from being out there.'”
Lachman and the other researchers say if the information isn’t useful to a
terrorist, it should be made available to the public. They say people have
the right to know about information such as what chemicals are stored
in their neighborhoods.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brush.
State and local officials say not all cities are prepared to respond to a bioterrorist attack. A recent federal report indicates more coordination is needed. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
State and local officials say not all cities are prepared to respond to a bioterrorist attack. A recent
federal report indicates more coordination is needed. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Lester Graham reports:
Federal agencies need to set benchmarks that define what is adequate protection from
bioterrorism and need to develop a way for cities and states to evaluate and share useful solutions.
Those are recommendations from the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of
Congress. The GAO found that state and local officials reported deficiencies in the number of
people needed, the coordination needed and the labs needed to address such things as
bioterrorism attacks or even new infectious diseases that can spread rapidly such as the West Nile
Virus or SARS. The GAO says the Department of Health and Human Services needs to work
with the Department of Homeland Security to get guidelines to state and local officials so that
they know what’s needed to protect the health of their residents.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
The Army wants to get rid of its stockpiles of chemical weapons because they fear terrorists might get to them. There are eight Army sites across the U.S. that store those kinds of chemicals. At one site in the Midwest, the military is planning to dispose of Nerve Agent VX. To destroy the stockpiles, the Army must first “water-down” the nerve agent. Then it has to be shipped to a company that disposes of industrial wastes. But while the Army says it’s making neighborhoods safer near where the chemical weapons are stored … some people fear having the watered-down nerve agent trucked into their neighborhoods. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston reports:
The Army wants to get rid of its stockpiles of chemical weapons because they fear terrorists might get to them. There are eight Army sites across the U.S. that store those kinds of chemicals. At one site in the Midwest, the military is planning to dispose of Nerve Agent VX. To destroy the stockpiles, the Army must first “water-down” the nerve agent. Then it has to be shipped to a company that disposes of industrial wastes. But while the Army says it’s making neighborhoods safer near where the chemical weapons are stored, some people fear having the watered-down nerve agent trucked into their neighborhoods. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Natalie Walston reports:
Nerve Agent VX is a clear, odorless liquid with the consistency of motor oil. It was
accidentally created during the Korean War, when British chemists were experimenting
with various concoctions meant to kill lice on North Korean POW’s and refugees. Nerve
Agent VX kills within minutes after contact with the skin. It has never been used in
combat by the United States. Instead, most of the country’s supply sits in a highly-
guarded tank at the Newport Chemical Depot in west-central Indiana. In 1985, Congress
ordered the chemical weapons destroyed because many seemed obsolete. In 1997, the
United States joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits countries from
developing, producing, stockpiling or using chemical weapons.
Then, as U.S. Army spokesperson Terry Arthur explains, terrorists slammed planes into
the World Trade Center towers:
“After September 11th, 2001, because the public suddenly became aware of the possibility
for terrorism here in the United States, folks living near the stockpiles became acutely
aware of that. And the army began to look at ways to accelerate destruction of the
The Army is planning to burn some of its chemical weapons in incinerators. The Nerve
Agent VX that’s stored in Newport, Indiana will be destroyed through a neutralization
process. That’s a process that makes the nerve agent no more harmful than a household
(Ambient sound fade up)
The watered-down version of the nerve agent is called hydrolysate. It will be shipped by
tanker truck to Perma-Fix Environmental Services, a company in Dayton, Ohio. It’s a
company that usually handles industrial wastes and used oils.
“If you get your oil changed anywhere at a service station near the Dayton, Ohio area,
chances are, the used oil from your vehicle ends up here.”
That’s company Vice President Tom Trebonik. He says the hydrolysate will, simply put,
be broken down by a natural process. It will be eaten by microscopic bugs. And then it
breaks down even more into a form that will be pumped into the sewer system.
But, once word of a “nerve agent” coming to town spread around the small, poor
neighborhood near the plant, environmentalists began working with residents to voice
opposition to its disposal. They tacked up signs in the local supermarket and carry-out
that read “Deadly VX Nerve Agent” is coming to the neighborhood.
Martha Chatterton is a young mother of one with another child on the way. She lives in a
small house in a decaying area. Her husband fixes cars in the garage out back. They’re
glued to the news on CNN about heightened terror alerts. They know terrorist attacks are
a possibility. But they don’t want a problem from Indiana shipped to their backyard.
Chatterton is worried about the health effects of living near a plant that deals with such
industrial wastes. She says some days the air is orange and smells of a chemical stew.
“Well, last year we did the whole yard with roses and different flowers, and about a week
after we planted them, all of them died. So there’s got… there’s something wrong with
the ground here, because when I dug the hole for the rose tree, it smelled like gas fumes.”
Chatterton fears Perma-Fix won’t be able to properly handle the hydrolysate. The
company was cited in 2001 for odor violation but has since installed equipment to solve
the problem. Beyond that, the U.S. EPA and the Army see no reason why the treated
nerve agent can’t be trucked into town. Again, Army spokesperson Terry Arthur:
“We understand the concern of the public because it’s derived from a chemical agent.
What we want them to understand is that we have truckers who will be dedicated and
trained specifically for hauling this product and getting it across the state line to the Ohio
facility, where experts have been working with this kind of material for years.”
With the threat of terrorism, there’s little that’s likely to slow the pace of the destruction
of the nerve agent. The risks of leaving it intact seem greater than the risks associated
with destroying it.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Natalie Walston.
Since the terrorist attacks on 9/11, things we used to take for granted as being safe are now being questioned. Resources essential to life can be used as vehicles for terrorists’ attacks. Even drinking water is among those things now considered vulnerable. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Since the terrorist attacks on 9/11, things we used to take for granted as
being safe are now being questioned. Resources essential to life can be
used as vehicles for terrorists’ attacks. Even drinking water is among
those things now considered vulnerable. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
In Afghanistan, as U.S. intelligence agencies began sifting through the
material left behind by cells of the Al Qaeda network, the United States
government became more concerned. It looked as though the World
Trade Center and the Pentagon were just the beginning of targets in
When President Bush gave his State of the Union address at the
beginning of this year, he told the public about some of the disturbing
evidence the members of Al Qaeda were holding.
“And the depth of their hatred is equaled by the madness of the
destruction they design. We have found diagrams of American nuclear
power plants and public water facilities.”
While the President revealed that water systems were a possible target,
the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency was
assuring groups that the nation’s water supplies were safe. Christie
Todd Whitman told a group of environmental journalists that with
everybody on heightened alert, it was unlikely a terrorist would be able
to contaminate a water source with chemicals or biological agents.
“It would be extremely difficult for someone to perform
this kind of act, taking a truckload – and that’s what it would be, a
tanker truckload – up to a reservoir and dumping it in, given the
heightened security we have today.”
But an expert on the risk of attacks on water supplies says it wouldn’t
have to take a tanker truck… or anything close to that given the nasty
nature of some of the contaminants available to terrorists.
Jim Snyder was a member of a presidential commission assigned to
look at infrastructure and its vulnerability to terrorist attacks.
“If you put a backpack or a couple of backpacks of that
material in a ten-million gallon reservoir, which would be a medium
sized above ground tank, you would kill half the people who drank one
And Snyder says it wouldn’t even take that much to cause
wide-spread panic… to raise the so-called ‘fear factor.’
“You don’t have to put enough stuff in the water to kill people.
You have to put enough stuff in the water so that people can’t
drink or use the water. If somebody says they put something in your
water, you’re not going to drink the water.”
Still, the government tries to assure the public there’s not much to fear.
Again, EPA Administrator Whitman…
“The vast majority of contaminants about which we’re worried, we know
how to treat. We know what steps to take. And those where we’re not sure
of what we need to do, we’re working with the CDC to develop a protocol to
But the tests conducted daily at a water purification plant don’t look
for the kinds of contaminants that a terrorist would likely use. Jim
Snyder says the first clue that anything was wrong with the water would
likely be sick or dying people.
While the EPA continues to reassure the public, the agency knows of
the shortcomings of security at the thousands of water systems across
the nation. But treating contaminated water would not be the
government’s first choice. It would rather try to prevent an attack.
That’s why it’s offering the water systems grants to figure out the best
way to make their systems less likely to be targeted by terrorists. Again,
“So, right now, you’ve got water systems all over the country
performing or getting ready to perform fairly sophisticated
vulnerability analyses which lead to recommendations on which
components need to be secured and how they should be secured and
what kind of risk reduction one could expect from adding levels of
Some things are easy, such as locking access gates, and patrolling
lakes and reservoirs. Others are more expensive and challenging. They
might include changes in how the water plants operate, using less
volatile chemicals in the purification process. Jim Snyder says
probably it will take years to beef up security… but even then a
determined terrorist could still strike.
Another terrorism prevention expert, Peter Beering with the City of
Indianapolis, says people should not be too alarmed about the
possibility that their water source could be poisoned. He says of all the
things to attack, water is probably low on the list.
“The good news is that these are comparatively uninteresting targets to
an aggressor. And, as we learned, unfortunately, in New York
and in Washington, that certainly there are much higher profile targets
that are of much greater interest to people who are upset with the
But, Beering notes that water systems across the nation still should
take prudent measures to protect the public’s water supplies… just in
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
It’s been almost a year since terrorists attacked the United States. But the repercussions of that morning continue to ripple across the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ann Murray looks at how security concerns are impacting the country’s 50,000 small drinking water systems. These utilities now find themselves scrambling for money, security training and equipment to keep their facilities and water supplies safe:
It’s been almost a year since terrorists attacked the United States. But the repercussions of that morning continue to ripple across the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ann Murray looks at how security concerns are impacting the country’s 50,000 small drinking water systems. These utilities now find themselves scrambling
for money, security training and equipment to keep their facilities and
water supplies safe:
The federal government started thinking seriously about domestic
security well before last September. Four years ago, the Clinton
administration examined the country’s infrastructure. And the results were
sobering. Water and wastewater systems were found to be vulnerable to
physical damage, computer hacking, chemical spills and radiological
Recent CIA reports place large metropolitan water systems on alert as
potential targets for terrorist attacks. But some small system operators
think their plants are vulnerable, too.
(sound of water plant)
“I feel that they could make an example out of a small system that says,
‘Look here, we could do that to a small one. We could do it to a larger
Barry Clemmer has run public water systems in western Pennsylvania for the
past 25 years. Before September 11th, he says his main concern was
vandalism – still the most likely scenario for a security breach. He walks
the fenced perimeter of his facility and points out new security devices.
“We have a camera on the side of one of our buildings that focuses
on the entrance gate. We monitor 24 hours a day. It’s hard to keep someone
out but it’s a deterrent and might slow them down from getting in.”
(sound of key in lock)
Although the front of the plant is now more secure, Clemmer continues
to worry about the intake system. That’s where raw river water is piped
into the treatment plant.
Clemmer: “Excuse me, I’ll open the gate.”
The river flows about 30 feet below the gated back of the facility. Clemmer walks down a wooden stairway to the unguarded riverbank. He shakes his head and says that terrorists could attack his plant from here.
“They could come up the river on a boat and hop out and go right
there and drop something in. It’d only take five minutes and our water
could be contaminated.”
Plans are in the works to secure the area where raw water is
taken into the plant. But Clemmer says that he still needs a security camera to
keep a close eye on the river. That will require additional grant dollars
because there isn’t money in the budget for security equipment and the
local community says it can’t afford the extra expense.
John Mori is director of the National Environmental Services Center, a federally funded technical assistance group. He says budget constraints are nothing new to small communities. It’s just that financial limitations have taken on an added dimension in this past year.
“Small systems historically have never gotten a share… an appropriate
share of federal dollars under the various loan programs. The point is there
are hundreds of thousands of Americans in small communities, medium size
communities and they need equal assurance that their water is safe and protected.”
Unlike metropolitan areas, Mori says smaller communities just don’t
have a big pool of qualified water personnel. So already overburdened
operators must now take on the responsibility of keeping their facilities
safe from terrorism.
“These are hardworking men and women who may have two or three or four
jobs in a community trying to do everything at once and make sure their
customers get good, safe water. So I think they’re determined about this. I
just think they need some help.”
Since September 11th, most help – in the form of new federal dollars
and security training – has gone to large water utilities. Metropolitan
water plants serve about 80 percent of the U.S. population. But Andy
Bielanski, with EPA’s newly formed Water Protection Task Force, says that the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is moving slowly but deliberately to also
help small water systems.
“What we’re doing is taking input and feedback from states, other
technical assistance organizations and agencies, on how best to approach
this problem. And we’ve been taking this all into consideration in trying
to provide security assistance to small systems.”
EPA and other agencies now face the daunting task of reaching more than
50,000 small water utilities. These utilities vary in size, customer base
and technical sophistication.
This past May, Congress mandated water utilities with more than 3,300
customers to conduct vulnerability assessments. Operators must then create
emergency response plans to address not only terrorism but vandalism or
natural disasters. Before September 11th, many small systems didn’t have
workable emergency plans in place.
(sound of conference)
At a pilot seminar for small system security, Tom Sherman with Michigan’s
Rural Community Assistance Program says Michigan’s systems are just like
many other small water utilities: they’re beginning from scratch.
“It’s kind of like ground zero. We’re just starting out. It’s something we knew we
had to address and you just need the input to know you’re going in the right direction.”
To make sure that small water operations are heading in the right direction, the federal government is trying to improve its outreach to small and medium size communities. Some funds have already been distributed to help these communities evaluate the safety of their water systems and upgrade their security. More than $70 million additional dollars await the approval of Congress and the President.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Ann Murray.
Some federal agencies and laboratories have restricted access to
information. The government fears terrorists could use some
plan attacks against the U.S.
Following the terrorist attacks on September 11th, the federal government has been re-thinking its website policies. Anything that the government feels could be used by terrorists was removed from the Internet. For example, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission completely shut down its website for a time and little of it has been restored. The Army Corps of Engineers removed information about dams across the U-S from its sites. Similarly, some information about natural gas pipelines, and transportation systems was removed. The Environmental Protection Agency removed information about hazardous chemicals. Now, the E-P-A is considering putting back some information about the risks communities face because of nearby industrial plants. But some industry groups were glad to see the information removed and don’t want it put back on the internet. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Following the terrorist attacks on September 11th, the federal government has been re-thinking its website policies. Anything that the government feels could be used by terrorists was removed from the internet. For example. the Nuclear Regulatory Commission completely shut down its website for a time and little of it has been restored. The Army Corps of Engineers removed information about dams across the U.S. from its sites. Similarly, some information about natural gas pipelines, and transportation systems was removed. The Environmental Protection Agency removed information about hazardous chemicals. Now, the EPA is considering putting back some information about the risks communities face because of nearby industrial plants. But, some industry groups were glad to see the information removed and don’t want it put back on the internet. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.
In the last decade or so, the government has put volumes and volumes of information on the internet. In the interest of an open and free government, federal agencies have given the public access to all kinds of data. But after the terrorist attacks, there was a scramble to remove a lot of that data. Some government agencies concede they might have overreacted when pulling information off the web. But, most indicate they thought it was better to be safe than to leave information on the internet that terrorists could use to more effectively plan an attack.
For example, the Environmental Protection Agency removed Risk Management Plans from the EPA website. Those plans give details about certain hazardous chemicals that are kept at industrial plants, how a chemical leak or fire at a plant would affect the surrounding community. and even how many people might be hurt or killed in a worse case scenario.
The EPA Administrator, Christie Whitman recently explained to journalists why she had the agency remove those plans.
“That was information on our website that really gave terrorists a road map as to how to where to plan an attack. I was just not sure that we wanted to have that up for any –not so much terrorists, but terrorist wannabe— to find and to take advantage of.”
The information was originally put together in EPA office reading rooms open to the public. Later it was put up on the EPA’s website. That was so community groups could more easily learn about the risks they faced from nearby chemical plants. It was also used by some neighborhood groups to pressure companies to either implement better safety measures or stop using certain chemicals.
Administrator Whitman says in the weeks since the attacks, the EPA has been reviewing whether some of that information can be restored to the internet.
“What we’re doing is reviewing and seeing if it is readily available elsewhere, then there’s no point in our taking it off. We’d put it back again.”
But many chemical companies and other industry groups don’t want that information put back on the government’s websites, even though it’s sometimes still available elsewhere on the internet. In fact, they don’t want the information available to the public at all.
Angela Logomasini is with the Washington-based libertarian think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute. She says the information, such as worse case scenarios, shouldn’t be available because it might be used by terrorists. Logomasini was surprised to learn the EPA Administrator is considering putting the information back on the internet.
“I think it’s ridiculous. I think what they should be doing is trying to investigate, you know, what the risks are and whether this is really a wise thing to do. You know, just simply because other groups have taken the information and posted some of it on the internet does not mean that our government should go out of its way and provide it too.”
Logomasini says the risk management plans are of little use to the public anyway. She says the only people who used them were environmentalists, who wanted the information to scare people.
There’s some skepticism about the chemical industry’s real motivation to keep the information out of public view. Besides environmentalists. Some journalists use the information to track industry safety and government regulations.
Margaret Kriz is a correspondent for the National Journal where she writes about government, industry and the environment. She says since September 11th, chemical industry people might be arguing that the risk management plans should be kept secret for national security reasons. But before then, their reasons had more to do with corporate public relations and competition.
“Some of the information that was taken off the web by EPA the day of the attack is information the chemical industry has been trying to get off the web for years. They have not wanted it on there because they really don’t want to have— they fear two things: they fear the public will overreact to the information if they find out (about) some chemicals in a nearby plant and the second thing, they’re fearful if a competitor for them will go look at this information and find out what chemicals are being used and figure out what their secret formula is for whatever they make.”
So, it appears to at least some observers that the chemical industry sees the concern over terrorism as an opportunity. an opportunity to get the internet-based information removed for good. But it looks as though the Environmental Protection Agency is leaning toward making some of the information available on the website again. However. EPA Administrator Christie Whitman didn’t say when. Other agencies are also reviewing the information they’ve removed from the web with an eye toward eventually making some version of the data available to the public once again on the internet.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
In the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, Americans are getting mixed signals from officials about just how safe their drinking water is. The federal government is trying to calm fears that terrorists might poison public water supplies. But at the same time the government and water utilities are asking the public to help keep an eye on reservoirs and storage tanks. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
In the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks, Americans are getting mixed signals from officials about just how safe their drinking water is. The federal government is trying to calm fears that terrorists might poison public water supplies. But, at the same time the government and water utilities are asking the public to help keep an eye on reservoirs and storage tanks. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.
Since the attacks, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Christie Whitman, has been traveling the country, assuring groups that water supplies are safe from terrorism. Speaking recently to a group of journalists, Whitman explained that security at water utilities has been increased and that water is now tested more frequently. And she said that given the size of most reservoirs, it would take a very large amount of any chemical or biological contaminant before any such attack would have an effect.
“It would be extremely difficult for someone to perform this kind of act, taking a truckload –and that’s what it would be, a tanker truckload– up to a reservoir and dumping it in, given the heightened security we have today. And that’s a security that’s not just being provided by the water companies, which it is, but it’s also citizen heightened security, believe me. People are calling in all the time when they see things that they think they shouldn’t be seeing near water supply systems.”
But, Whitman’s view is not shared by a number of experts in the field of terrorism prevention. Jim Snyder is a professor at the University of Michigan. He was a member of a team of experts that worked with the Defense Department to determine possible threats against public water supplies.
“There are a number of contaminants, several bio-toxins and a large number of chemicals that are more or less readily available that could be put into, let’s say, a ten-million gallon reservoir which could in amounts something between a backpack and a pickup truck could achieve a lethal dose of 50-percent. That is, 50-percent of the people who drank one cup would die.”
And Snyder adds, water contamination wouldn’t have to be lethal, just contaminated enough that it caused panic and made the water unusable. Snyder also points out that the tests that production chemists run on water would not detect the kind of contaminants terrorists would use. The first clue something was wrong would be sick or dead people.
EPA Administrator Whitman concedes that there are some contaminants that would not be filtered out or killed by disinfectants used in water treatment. but she says water systems across the U-S are prepared for most kinds of attacks.
“The vast majority of contaminants about which we’re worried, we know how to treat. We know what steps to take. And those where we’re not sure of what we need to do, we’re working with the CDC to develop a protocol to respond. And we’re sharing that information as we get it with the water companies to make sure even those small ones know what to look for and how to treat it if they find it.”
Besides the Center for Disease Control, the EPA is working with the FBI and the water utilities to prepare for the worst, while telling the public that there’s little to worry about. The EPA could have helped those water systems prepare earlier. The terrorism prevention team Jim Snyder sat on drafted a manual for water system operators, outlining security measures that could be taken. The EPA buried that manual in part because the agency didn’t want to unnecessarily alarm the public.
The water utility industry is working with the EPA to try to calm any fears the consumers might have. The American Water Works Association has held joint news conferences with Administrator Whitman, echoing the statement that poisons would be diluted or that it would take a tanker of contaminants to cause a problem. Pam Krider is a spokesperson for the American Water Works Association.
“When you get into a specific discussion about types of chemicals or quantities of chemicals, whether it’s a backpack or whether it’s a tanker, I mean, those are not as useful as discussing what are the processes that a utility has in place for monitoring what is and is not in its water, ensuring that they can provide safe, clean drinking water to the consumers within their city.”
So, the American Water Works Association is encouraging water utilities to step up testing water and quietly meet with emergency planners to prepare for the worst..
“What we have been discussing is the need for every utility to work very closely with local officials, to have a crisis preparedness and response plan in place, to have back-up systems in place, and most important, to engage their local community in keeping an eye out on the different reservoirs, storage tanks and treatment facilities and reporting any kind of suspicious activity that they might see both to the utility as well as to the police department.”
Water terrorism prevention expert Jim Snyder says simple things such as locking gates and posting security guards go a long way to discourage would-be terrorists from attacking a water treatment plant, storage tanks, wells or a reservoir. However, he notes. there’s little that can be done to stop a determined terrorist from contaminating a public water supply. And it seems that’s a message the EPA and the water utilities don’t want to talk about because it might worry the public.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.