A Homeland Security Initiative for the
Safeguarding of Military and Municipal Water Supplies

By Michael Bressler
March 2003

The Author - a graduate of West Point, Class of 1968, US Army Retired, in El Paso, Texas - introduces a technology to treat oily wastewater, and examines what it might mean to the safeguarding of municipal drinking water supplies. Recent improvements now allow for decontaminated water to be elevated to drinking water quality at roughly 2-3 cents per gallon, the same cost experienced at conventional municipal treatment centers. This at volume flow rates in excess of 100,000 gallons per 24 hour period per single modular unit.

In keeping with the President´s directive to all American citizens ”to remain alert to the threat of terrorism ...”

"The functions of the Office of Homeland Defense shall be to coordinate the executive branch´s efforts to detect, prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks within the United States .... coordinate efforts to protect United States livestock, agriculture, and systems for the provision of water and food for human use and consumption from terrorist attack..."

Executive Order 13228 of October 8, 2001 (Section 3. Functions)
Establishing the Office of Homeland Security and the Homeland Security Council


What if a 5000 gallon fuel tanker were hijacked and its fuel cargo pumped into a municipal water supply? Based on military sources it takes only one quart of motor oil to render 250,000 gallons of drinking water contaminated («Oil Facts», see below). By these calculations a 5,000 gallon tanker of used motor oil sent into a reservoir could contaminate conceivably 5 billion gallons of water slated for human consumption. From raw fuel, pesticides and heavy metals to waste oils and lubricants of all kind the U.S. roadways are teaming with trucks of all sizes carrying a deadly cargo that could readily translate into an endless nightmare for Homeland Security (see letter from the El Paso County Health Director, available upon request). The idea of decontaminating drinking water on a large and rapid scale using portable, efficient recycling units had been considered unrealistic - until now. Recent breakthroughs in water separation techniques by the California company, ESI may have an answer to one of the deadliest forms of bio-terrorism.


In April 1998, Enviremedial Services Inc. (ESI), a contractor specializing in wastewater reclamation, demonstrated to the U.S. Army´s 240th Quartermaster Battalion a new approach to water - fuel separation and distribution. What was suggested may soon revolutionize the way the Army re-supply´s its fuel and drinking water during combat deployment. To the surprise and disbelief of the Army the contractor proposed (and demonstrated) that a diesel fuel - drinking water slurry be transported through a single pipeline and pump system. At the destination the slurry could be separated simultaneously providing fuel ready to use and water ready to drink thus eliminating dual pipes and pumps.

Now, a year and a half after the 9-11 attack and the substantial progress made in the fuel - water separation technique may have a place in homeland security. Using portable, modularized equipment it is possible to treat large volumes of water on an uninterrupted basis. Imagine forty foot trailer units with "quick disconnect" portals on each end being set up at key water entry points on a Government installation ready to treat water as it comes in from a recently contaminated reservoir. Or, these same containers set up at fire stations in residential areas supplying immediate drinking water to population centers. Realistic volumes on a continuous flow could be as high as 100,000 gallons per day per unit (produced at 2-3 cents per gallon).

Example: Lets assume a small town or a military installation, falls victim to water contamination. The following realistic numbers might apply:

Town Population (including the hospital)20,000
Estimated drinking water ration per day per individual2 gallons
Total drinking water required per day (20,000 x 2)40,000
Number of portable units on duty 24 hours per day1
Number of gallons in reserve per day60,000

Alternative Uses During Non Emergency Periods

Keeping these large, portable recovery units busy while waiting for an emergency will be a prime economic factor in determining the unit´s lifecycle costs and return on investment. Therefore, a systematic alternate use plan should be developed for each water recovery unit. Periodic flooding, catastrophic vehicle, train or air crashes, routine motor pool water salvage, and storm water runoff are just a few examples where resulting water contamination can occur necessitating a need for a portable treatment capability. This is discussed in greater detail below.

In these and many other ways, Army installations or ships at sea are like small municipalities - operating and maintaining their own wastewater treatment system which occasionally fall into disrepair through over work, neglect or simply human error. All wastewater systems experience persistent problems and become, at one time or an other, susceptible to regulatory violations. For this reason a national standard has been established for pretreatment which forces all responsible parties to manage their problems and control the impact on an innocent population.

Toward this end the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed a set of national pretreatment standards that would help achieve the following goals:

Prohibition against the discharging of harmful substances were codified. For example, the following, known as Specific Discharge Prohibitions, cannot be discharged to a publicly owned treatment works:

With respect to sources of possible wastewater violations both Army installations and municipalities need to consider the following locations as potentially dangerous:

  • Motor Pools
  • Pesticide Storage
  • Vehicle Wash Racks
  • Steam Cleaning Facilities
  • Pesticide Mixing/Handling
  • Auto Craft Shops
  • Material Maintenance Shops
  • Refueling Locations
  • Research Labs
  • Ammunition Mfg.
  • Print & Craft Shops
  • Paint Shops
  • Metal Finishing Shops
  • Incinerators
  • Airfields
  • Metal Rework Areas
  • Foundries and Forging
  • Flight Lines/Runways
  • Metal Plating Shops
  • Fuel Tanker Purging Areas
  • Fuel Storage Facilities
  • Photo Shops
  • DRMO Yards
  • Heating Plants
  • Hospitals
  • Laundries
  • Small Arms Shops
  • Dental Clinics
  • DPW Maintenance Shops
  • Bladder Purging Areas
  • ND Test Facilities
  • Drum Rinsing
  • Battery Shops
  • Food Service Facilities
  • Hazardous Waste Storage
  • Aircraft Maintenance
  • Vet Clinics

Given the magnitude of possible water contamination at any given time there is ample use for a small fleet of portable units in virtually every metropolitan area.

A well thought out installation or municipal preventive maintenance program could very easily keep a fleet of these treatment units busy on a full time basis. Economically, there is much to be said for having the ability to go to a contaminated site to treat the water as opposed to transporting the contaminant over highways thereby compounding the problem of liability and health risk as defined in a letter to the Mayor of El Paso from the El Paso County Health Director dated January 5th 1998 (available upon request). Estimates show that offsite hauling and disposal can be many times the cost of onsite recycling to say nothing of the hidden costs associated with the liability of managing hazardous material.

A Substantial Economic Benefit

Under this concept, Government installations (and municipalities) would have on hand the minimum number of water recycling units required to support their population´s daily water needs for a pre determined number of "emergency days" after terrorist attack on a water reservoir. Security of water sites is a high visibility concern according to the American Water Works Association, over two billion dollars ahs been requested of the Bush Administration (available upon request).

These units would also have a daily plan for their "off emergency" use which would incorporate site visitation schedules to potentially dangerous locations as listed above. For example, one unit might be ear-marked to visit all the motor pools to recycle wastewater from oil water separators as is being done at Ft. Bliss through privatization contracts. An other might visit the airport for the treatment of storm water runoff that must be collected and stored before disposal.

If we can assume that six units can be kept busy in a city like El Paso, Texas for 5 days a week operating at least six hours per day then the collective oil-water recycled per day at multiple visitation sites would be 150,000 gallons per day or 3 million gallons per month. Based on the Ft. Bliss experience and the current costs attainable of only 2-3 cents per gallon, these savings quickly translate into a practical, affordable solution.

Final Thought

Onsite treatment of contaminated wastewater has many hidden advantages in addition to direct dollar savings. Control of a hazardous substance by the base commander or the commercial superintendent negates add-on liability should the shipped hazardous waste spill during transport. Immediate savings of reusable water particularly during drought periods lessens the strain on the general water supply. Finally, the extraction of residual waste oil in a concentrated (and controlled) form often provides a lucrative resale market in the secondary fuel industry.

Some Facts on Oil and Oil-Water Contamination


Copyright © 2003, ECO Services International