Mention drinking water contamination and most people would suspect problems with the ground water or with a water treatment plant. However, contamination of a building's internal piping or associated household appliances, whether by terrorist act or through an unintentional mishap, also could pose a serious threat to the health of building occupants. Recently, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Environmental Protection Agency's National Homeland Security Research Center (NHSRC) joined forces to cut the risk of this little explored hazard.
Under an interagency agreement, researchers from the two organizations have launched an investigation of contamination possibilities affecting internal water lines and appliances such as water heaters, dishwashers and icemakers. NIST researchers will conduct detailed measurements, analysis and modeling of the transport, accumulation and removal of potential contaminants in building plumbing systems. This work, which is scheduled for completion in summer 2006, will provide the technical basis for EPA guidelines for effective responses to contamination incidents.
NIST is currently conducting laboratory measurements, and modifying its small and full-scale plumbing test facilities to duplicate typical building piping systems. NIST and EPA scientists will use safe surrogates for possible biological and chemical contaminants in the contamination and decontamination tests.