Pool chemical could be effective at cleaning anthrax-tainted water supplies

New research has revealed that a common pool chemical could effectively be used as a decontaminant for water supplies that are tainted with anthrax.

Ellen Raber, the director of the Environmental Protection Department at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, and her daughter, Alison Burklund, a student at the Athenian School in Danville, California, published their research in the October issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, EHT-Forum.org reports.

The mother-daughter team tested five chemical candidates to determine the most effective for destroying Bacillus anthracis spores within a large public water system without posing risks to health or the environment.

Anthrax spores are able to survive for more than one year in both pond and distilled water, EHT-Forum.org reports, and can resist heat, UV light and harsh disinfectants. Anthrax is classified as a "probable" water threat by the U.S. National Response Team.

While decontaminants have been tested for anthrax on hard surfaces, there is not a currently accepted approach for cleaning drinking water supplies. Research suggests, EHT-Forum.org reports, that a ten-fold increase in standard chlorination would be effective.

"But we were looking for something that could be implemented by individuals and on a larger scale," Raber told EHT-Forum.org.

Studies that have tested methods of killing anthrax in water focused on high concentrations of anthrax spores. Raber surmised, however, that a release of anthrax into the public water system would be diluted across the whole system.

To test against that dilution, the researchers used five different chemicals at low concentrations against two different types of Bacillus spore surrogates. Each of the chemicals tested killed as many spores as it was capable of within 10 minutes, which suggested that any of the treatments would work rapidly, EHT-Forum.org reports.

Three of the chemicals - hydrogen peroxide, sodium hypochlorite and Dichlor - proved to be 100 percent effective. Dichlor is commonly used to treat swimming pools and had not been tested previously as an anthrax decontaminant. It proved to be the best option based upon its safety profile and ability to degrade into non-toxic products.