New response program for water contamination developed

The team behind SecurEau, a four-year Seventh Framework Programme funded project, announced on Thursday the development of a toolbox that can be used by major European cities in cases of water supply contamination.

Water systems are potential targets for terrorism and CBRN contamination because of their importance to human health and the economy. Making drinking water less vulnerable to intentional attacks is a major security challenge.

SecurEau's toolbox detects water quality changes, quickly identifies the source of contamination, provides strategies for cleaning water systems and uses analytical methods to confirm cleaning procedures are conducted efficiently. The SecurEau team is composed of 12 partners from six European countries, including the University of Southampton.

"If a contamination event (accidental or deliberate) occurs in a drinking water network, it is essential to identify the sources of contamination and to determine the area which is likely to be contaminated, in order to isolate and decontaminate the affected area only, as well as keep supplying drinking water in non-affected areas," Professor Bill Keevil, director of environmental healthcare at the University of Southampton, said.

SecurEau uses water quality sensors that can send alerts whenever the quality of the water is changed. The system uses specific molecular tools developed for the program.

"Rapidly restoring the functionality of drinking water infrastructures and the access to safe drinking water represents another major concern for regulatory agencies and water utilities," Professor Ian Croudace, director of the University of Southampton's Geosciences Advisory Unit, said. "Indeed, the damage resulting from impairment of drinking water services would seriously impact the quality of life of many people not only by directly harming them but also making water systems unusable for a long period of time with a risk of societal disorder."