U.S. Wastewater Sites Need More Security Funding
WASHINGTON Most U.S. wastewater facilities have voluntarily boosted their site security in the last five years, but they still need more funding and better federal direction, according to a government report Monday.
Since attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001, more than half of the 200 facilities the office surveyed have stopped using chlorine gas, which can be used as a lethal weapon, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said.
An additional 10 percent of plant operators said they plan to switch to another chemical, such as sodium hypochlorite, a strong version of household bleach. The GAO, an investigative office serving Congress, also said 74 percent have assessed their security vulnerabilities and many have improved surveillance.
But more could be done to keep vandals from releasing the utilities' chemicals or the wastewater itself to poison people and the environment, the GAO said.
Many water utilities do not have the money to install sensors or locks on manholes, which provide access to underground sewers at the street level. Only a few have installed devices to detect toxic substances released into sewers and storm collection lines, the report said.
"Survey results show that a lack of funding and federal security guidelines remain a concern for many wastewater facility managers," the report said.
About half of the facilities said they needed more money.
Jim Sullivan, general counsel for the nonprofit Water Environment Federation, agreed with the GAO about funding troubles and about improved direction from the two federal agencies in charge of wastewater security.
Those agencies -- the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Homeland Security -- often overlap in their efforts, the report found, and neglect to share information.
Sabotage issues are not the only problem wastewater plants face. After Hurricane Katrina, facilities are racing to protect themselves from natural disasters, Sullivan said.
There are more than 16,000 public wastewater facilities in the United States, serving more than 70 percent of its population. According to the GAO, only about 500 of these systems serve the bulk of customers.