As chemical security legislation (H.R. 2868) moves from the House to the Senate, it’s my hope that legislators will stay focused on the issue of security, rather than getting lost on the issue of process. Included in the second and third titles of the chemical bill are provisions that apply specifically to drinking water and wastewater systems. While significantly different from chemical plants, the controversy of Inherently Safer Technologies (ISTs) still applies.
This week, Congressional Quarterly ran a chemical security-related article that highlighted how the Canadian company K2 Pure Solutions uses a process known as on-site generation to produce sodium hypochlorite (liquid bleach) that can be used to disinfect water. This eliminates the need for rail cars full of gaseous chlorine, the chemical most widely used to purify water. I applaud the work K2 Pure solutions is doing and would encourage all chemical and water systems to explore the use and feasibility of such IST processes. The article, however, as well as K2 Pure Solutions management, paint a one-sided picture that makes it seem as though every water utility or chemical facility can use on-site generation. This assertion is patently false.
While some utilities in the water sector have incorporated on-site generation as part of their disinfection process, the reality is that most simply cannot. Overall, water utilities lack the space needed to build in the capacity, the millions upon millions of dollars needed to cover the design and building costs, and the inability to store the excessive quantities of sodium required to maintain any reasonable level of “backup” capability. Even when such factors can be overcome, the fact is liquid bleach may not be feasible for a utility due to water quality concerns.
You’ll never hear me advocate for the use of one treatment technology over another in the context of security. My advice to the water systems I advise is to assess and determine which of the many available disinfection technologies out there is most appropriate for their given utility and then to secure and safeguard whatever they use.
At the end of the day, local experts familiar with the specifics of a given system are in the best position to decide their process – not Congress and certainly not a company that makes money from the use of one particular technology.