Water treatment is a sensitive subject, not only to the economy but to the wellbeing of the society as a whole. Water management authorities are generally expected to ensure not only the availability but also the safety of the water meant for public use. In this case, Mark not only has to ensure that the people continue getting water but that they continue getting it in its purest form. The Department of Homeland Security may be doing their job, but they are interfering with Mark’s ability to carry out his obligations to the people of the Unity and its surroundings. Nevertheless, the risks associated with chlorine must be acknowledged as they do exist. This paper examines the real risks so as to determine whether the DHS is overreacting or Mark should really change the system’s approach to water treatment.
The Chlorine Water Treatment System
Amongst all the disinfectant systems available for water treatment, chlorine stands out not only as the most effective but also as the cheapest and safest for the environment. Except for its hazardous properties if inhaled in high concentrations and its ability to explode when combined with other compounds, chlorine is relatively safe for use as a water treatment chemical.
The water treatment remains as reliable as it was even before the 9/11 attack. While it is justifiable to associate terrorism threats with every possible risk, the potential threat to the chlorine system has not in any way changed. Despite the scare of biological weaponry, and chlorine belonging to this class, the system continues to deliver water to the people of Unity impeccably, and changing it would be equal to altering the quality of the water for a substandard one.
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Over the years, chlorine has been effective in water treatment systems without any terror incidents. While this fact does not eliminate the associated risks of chlorine in a water treatment system, it proves the reliability of the system (Spellman 46). If there had been devised better water treatment options that rendered the use of chlorine unnecessary, then the DHS could have considered the chlorine system unreliable, which has not happened thus far. The only thing that is different here is the DHS perspective, possibly lobbied by the groups seeking to stop transportation of chlorine. This implies that the system itself is safe, and that the possible risks are not in the water system but in the transportation of the chlorine itself.
Considering the procedures outlined in the management process for chlorine water treatment, the plant only receives a limited amount of chlorine to avoid storing a large amount of hazardous material. This means that the transportation occurs on a regular basis, with very small deliveries on each trip. The transport is done by rail, arguably the safest means available for such material. This mode of transport has however been under attack several times, implying that the transported chlorine is indeed a risk to the public. But it would also be good to acknowledge that the amount of chlorine transported at a time is usually very small, just enough to sustain the treatment plant for a maximum of two days. Otherwise, the security measures are the same as before, or even stricter.
This means that the water treatment system based on chlorine remains reliable for delivering clean safe water, and that there is nothing different about the water treatment system itself except for the terrorist scare since the 9/11 attack.
To establish the reliability of the chlorine water treatment system, the SWOT analysis is as follows:
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- Chlorine is the most effective disinfectant in terms of the quality and safety of the water
- The compound has residual disinfecting capabilities meaning that the water is safe all the way
- It is relatively cheap and safe to use
- The volume of chlorine available at any given time is too small to cause significant damage in case of a terrorist attack
It can only be delivered in small volumes meaning higher transport expenses
Diversification of the water treatment plant to divide the city into two districts and minimize the risk of terrorist attacks in the entire city
Transporting accidents may be hazardous to the exposed populations
Is the Department of Homeland Security over-reacting to the risks chlorine poses?
Chlorine is a hazardous substance with the ability to kill, cause respiratory complications upon inhalation in high doses and even explode if combined with some types of substances. This means that as a chemical compound, chlorine can be used in making explosives, and also as a biological weapon of mass destruction. With this in mind, it cannot be stated that the DHS is overreacting. They are right to be concerned with any persons believed to have this dangerous chemical at their disposal, even if it is used for reasons such as water treatment. However, the DHS needs to consider the benefits of chlorine to the water treatment systems. The dangers of this substance can only be in high amounts, and they can easily regulate the access that the water treatment facilities have at any time by limiting transportation volumes to a functional minimal.
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Effect of a Terrorist Attack
A terrorist attack at the MWSA would imply that the terrorists have access to the public water supply system. The water from the treatment facility at Unity is used by all the citizens for domestic and industrial use as well, and most of them actually drink the water directly from the taps. This implies that the terrorists could easily release contaminated water and cause some serious health problems among people even without having to use biological weapon. They could also introduce toxins such as Staphylococcal enterotoxin among others to cause serious reactions and even deaths among the citizens of the Unity. Another possibility the terrorists could use is to to pump the chlorine gas into the town water supply system causing death and suffering of untold proportions.
Generally, terrorists attacking a water supply system would imply that they have access to the homes and livelihoods of the entire local population. With or without chlorine, such a dangerous situation could likely end in a public health emergency with a lot of significant consequences including the loss of innocent lives.
A Terrorist Attack on Chlorine at MWSA
The first thing that Mark needs to make the DHS understand is that there is hardly ever a day when there is too much chlorine at the water treatment plant. The management only allows an amount that is able to sustain the treatment procedures for two days, implying limited access to the chemical even at the treatment facility. This radically reduces the effects of any possible terrorist threat on the facility. Chlorine is undeniably a hazardous compound, but it must be in large volumes for it to cause considerable damage of any kind. Except for releasing untreated or contaminated water into the public water system, the terrorists can technically cause no significant harm to the people of Unity by attacking the facility. The amount of explosives that can be generated by two days’ worth of chlorine supplies is not as dangerous as the effect of releasing unpurified water to the city’s populations on a regular basis.
Also, the water treatment facility is heavily guarded right from the watershed areas to the reservoirs and the treatment plant. While these areas do not have any direct link to chlorine, they are water catchment and storage areas that may give the terrorists direct access to water supply. Considering that chlorine is being considered as the problem, the DHS would also have to understand that the chlorine is only handled at the heavily guarded treatment facility at Unity and that the water is constantly monitored by computer systems for safety and quality before being released for public to use.
The chlorine at the treatment plant is not enough in terms of its volume to attract terrorists, given the limitations on the capacity of damage that it can cause. If the facility had a large chlorine volume in storage, then that would pose a serious threat; but they only receive a small quantity at a time. If this small amount of chlorine was to be used to poison the masses at the town, the concentration would not be high enough to cause any serious damage. It might scare the people, but there would be no significant losses as during the incident with 56.3 tons. To create a significant amount of destruction as terrorists would want, they would require a very large volume of chlorine, the kind that cannot be found anywhere near the water treatment facility (Spellman 56).
The terrorists can thus only attack the plant if they want to access public water system and not the chlorine itself. This means that the real threat is not the water treatment compound being used but the system itself, which cannot definitely be shut down. While everything poses a potential terrorist threat, there are some risks that the people would be willing to live with, and a water supply system is one of them.
To mitigate the risk of a terrorist attack on the MWSA facility, Mark can introduce more security protocols for the patrol guards and watchmen. This would imply stricter measures of the facility accessibility. Having observed that the real threat would be the public water system and not the chlorine, the entire system right from the catchment areas to the reservoirs and treatment plant would need a fortified security system at all times. To achieve this, the help of the DHS may be valuable in terms of personnel and technological support in security systems.
To reduce the potential losses of a terrorist attack, the treatment facility could open another branch and divide the city into two districts so that if one plant was attacked, only half of the population would be in danger. Currently, the Unity facility alone provides access to the entire town and this increases the potential losses in case of a terrorist attack at the water treatment facility.
Evidence of Over Reaction by the DHS
- The first piece of evidence is the effects of the 56.3 tons of chlorine in the train collision incident. Terrorist attacks are orchestrated for their ability to draw attention and cause maximum destruction. If 56.3 tons only caused 9 fatalities and numerous minor health complaints, how much chlorine would a terrorist need to realize the desired effect? The DHS would need to realize that terrorists would not risk their lives and freedom for small incidences with limited volumes of chlorine.
- Secondly, the other disinfectant compounds also have hazardous effects. From exhibit 1, the major options for water treatment include compounds like sodium hypochlorite, calcium hypochlorite, chloramine and ozone. The first two compounds are corrosive, volatile in certain situations and expensive in terms of storage capacity. Using chloramine would lead to several cases of water borne diseases given that it is a weak disinfectant, and it has ammonia which is equally dangerous in high concentrations as well as chlorine gas. Ozone, on the other hand will still require the use of chlorine on site, thus not eliminating the ‘hazardous’ compound (Speegle 78). Basically, there isn’t a single method of disinfecting the water that doesn’t involve some amount of risk. The chemical compounds involved are all hazardous to some degree and chlorine is the best based on its efficiency in purifying the water for safe consumption and use.
- Also, the only time when the chlorine compound caused fatalities is due to transportation accident. If there had been a terrorist incident involving the compound, then perhaps the DHS could be justified in trying to rule it out as a water treatment chemical (Speegle 93).
Chlorine is used worldwide to purify water, and is only availed for treatment facilities in small amounts due to its dangerous and unstable state. The handlers of such chemicals are fully aware of the attached dangers and thus they limit the risks involved.Chlorine is a dangerous chemical compound that may cause death and destruction if mishandled in high volumes. The compound however is the single most effective water disinfectant known to man. This means that it cannot simply be done away with unless the threats it poses are real. In the case of DHS, the claims are unfounded given that the volume of chlorine handled at the water treatment facility at any given time is insufficient for terrorist activities.