CHEMICAL, BIOLOGICAL, AND RADIOLOGICAL (CBR) CONTAMINATION
Should chemical or biological agents or nuclear weapons be employed during conflicts, the water supply of the area involved would, in all likelihood, become contaminated. A water source contaminated with a chemical, biological, or radiological agent can cause incapacitation or death to a consumer. Effective means for determining the presence of CBR agents, followed by proper decontamination procedures, can reduce or eliminate the hazards caused by these agents.
In the event that you are assigned to supervise or manage a field water supply point, you will be responsible for the detection and removal of CBR contaminants. The supervisor of a water point crew must be sure the crew is trained in the identification of CBR contamination by recognizing the various indications of CBR contamination of their water point as follows: . An unusual taste or odor . Dead fish and animals in unusually large numbers
l A sudden drop in normal pH values or a pH value of less than 6.0
. High readings on radiac equipment
l Personnel developing fevers, diarrhea, cramps, vomiting, and so forth
. Burning sensation of skin, eyes, and nose l Runny eyes, nose, and mouth
If CBR contamination of a water source is suspected, have your crew don appropriate protective clothing and equipment before they start tests for determining the type and extent of the problem. For example, water contaminated with a nerve agent should not be allowed to come in contact with the skin nor the vapors be inhaled. Therefore, wearing a protective mask and gloves would be necessary before checking for nerve agent contamination.
Chemical agents are classified in seven categories: nerve, blister, blood, choking, vomiting, irritant, and incapacitating. The nerve
agents, blister agents, and agents containing cyanide are most dangerous because they are highly poisonous. Some are soluble in water and either are slow to decompose in solution or remain poisonous after decomposition. Water supplies are likely to become contaminated as an incidental result of widespread chemical attack, rather than as a result of direct attack on the water supply. Chemical agents are colorless, odorless, and tasteless. The first indication of their use could be the appearance of casualties. The chemicals affect people, animals, and plants
but leave homes, factories, and other facilities untouched.
Water is a carrier of many organisms that cause intestinal disease. An epidemic of one of these diseases among troops can be more devastating than enemy action and can cause great damage to morale as well as health. A heavy responsibility thus rests upon the Utilitiesman, and vigilance over water purification equipment and procedures should never be relaxed. It is emphasized that water treatment methods to be used when certain chlorine-resistant organisms are encountered should be prescribed by a representative of the medical officer. The representative will recognize or anticipate the presence of these organisms and recommend such additional chlorination or other treatment methods as may be necessary.
A waterborne disease rarely produces symptoms in its victim immediately after the victim has consumed the contaminated water. A period of time, known as the incubation period, must pass before the victim comes down with the disease. During this incubation period, the disease organisms are growing and multiplying. Absence of symptoms for several days after untreated water has been consumed is, therefore, no guarantee that the water is safe. Also, absence of disease among the local inhabitants is no assurance of safety because they may have developed immunity.
Types of waterborne diseases include typhoid fever, paratyphoid fever, cholera, bacillary dysentery, amebic dysentery, common diarrhea, infectious hepatitis, and schistosomiasis. Biological water contamination causes little, if any, change in the chemical and physical characteristics of water, such as pH, alkalinity, and color. This makes it difficult to test a water source for contamination. However, when the water has an excessive chlorine demand, it should be viewed with concern. The excessive demand could be due to microorganisms. Other indicators are as follows: aircraft dropping or spraying of unidentified material; unusual types of bombs, particularly one which bursts with little or no blast; smoke and mist of an unknown substance: unusual increase in insects, such as mosquitoes, ticks, or fleas; increased occurrence of sick or dead animals; increased incidents of troop sickness and disease; or intelligence reports indicating enemy use of a biological contaminant.