Airman 1st Class Amber Ubinger, 20th Aerospace Medical Squadron bioenvironmental technician, reaches for her water with confidence knowing that her, and her wingmen thoroughly and regularly test the base water supply for contaminates, Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 17, 2012. Keeping the base’s water supply clean helps promotes smooth base operations and bolsters mission success. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Blackwell/Released)
Airman 1st Class Amber Ubinger, 20th Aerospace Medical Squadron bioenvironmental technician, pours a revealing agent into a water sample for testing at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 17, 2012. When incubated, the revealing agent may turn different colors, indicating whether or not there is contamination present within the sample. This is one of many tests used to ensure Shaw’s water is safe for use and consumption. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Blackwell/Released)
Airman 1st Class Amber Ubinger, 20th Aerospace Medical Squadron bioenvironmental technician, examines a water sample, checking for potential contaminates present within the sample at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Aug. 17, 2012. By closely, and regularly monitoring the base’s water supply Team Shaw can use the water with confidence knowing it is safe to consume. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Blackwell/Released)
by A1C Daniel Blackwell
20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
9/11/2012 - SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Here at Shaw, purifying, treating and maintaining the base water supply is a constant and essential job in assuring base operations.
The 20th Aerospace Medical Squadron's bioenvironmental section possesses a large role in this process because it is their job to ensure the water is safe for drinking and all other uses.
"We're always working to ensure the water is running and it's safe to consume," said Senior Airman Thomas Trivett, 20th AMDS bioenvironmental technician.
Water on base serves a number of purposes from cooking, cleaning and bathing to drinking, and must be serviceable and sanitary at all times.
Airmen from the 20th AMDS's bioenvironmental section ensure this by frequently and thoroughly examining the base water system for the presence of chemicals of concern or contaminates in the water.
They check the pH (acidity) and chlorine levels of the water and also perform bacteriological sampling (testing for contaminates by means of bacterial incubation).
Chlorine is used to purify public water systems and has played a vital role in water sanitation in recent history, virtually eliminating outbreaks caused by water-borne diseases.
It was discovered by Carl Wilhelm Scheele in 1774, and was identified as an element and added to the periodic table by Sir Humphry Davy in 1810. Chlorine's water-based-sterilizing properties were discovered in 1850 by Dr. John Snow (who incorporated the use of chlorine to treat a cholera outbreak in London's Soho District) and it has since become one of the most commonly used methods of water sanitation.
The use of chlorine in public water systems in the United States began in Jersey City, N.J., in 1908. After their success sterilizing local water supplies and virtually eliminating water-borne diseases, the remaining states quickly followed. Since then, chlorine has played a major role in water treatment in the U.S.
Shaw's bioenvironmental Airmen consistently regulate amounts of chlorine present in the base's water system. Chlorine, used in small doses in this fashion, is harmless to consume. The use of chlorine kills harmful bacteria, eliminating the risk of cholera, typhoid, dysentery, hepatitis A and other pathogens that would otherwise survive, contaminating the water supply.
"Shaw adheres to all South Carolina water sanitation requirements (State Primary Drinking Water Regulation 61-58)," Trivett explained. "We ensure that base residents' drinking water is of the highest quality."
If during a "bacteriological sample test" a contaminate is indicated within the water, they acquire another sample from the same source to test again. If it is still present upon the second test, a qualified reviewing official will determine the next course of action.
After careful consideration, one of two base-wide commands will be issued; either a "boil water notification" or a "boil water advisory".
A notification indicates that a pathogen was found within the water supply, and base residents should boil their water before use until the notification is lifted.
An advisory is given when test results are uncertain, but the reviewing official feels that base residents should air on the side of safety and boil their water until conclusive results can be verified.
Neither command may be lifted until two consecutive days of pathogen-free tests can be verified, ensuring the water is safe for use again.
"Positive samples are a very rare occurrence," Trivett explained.
Aside from regularly monitoring and testing the water, bioenvironmental Airmen must also be concerned about "breaks in the line," which occur when a water line ruptures, loses pressure, and can no longer carry water to its destination, causing a water outage.
"There is a lot of construction happening on base," said Michelle Kramer, AMDS environmental health engineer. "Due to this construction and the way our water system is setup, there will be water outages."
Due to the age of the base and its changing infrastructure, some water lines were not properly mapped during its construction. This issue, coupled with the recent surge of construction on base, has led to water lines accidently being struck, causing "breaks in the lines" and temporary outages of service for base residents.
Whether it's a "boil water notification" (or advisory) or a water outage, base residents are advised to be prepared by planning ahead.
"We recommend keeping at least three gallons of water (or roughly a gallon per person) present in the household at all times," Kramer explained. "This way, residents will still be able to cook, clean, wash and hydrate if water services are temporarily down." (For more tips, advice and information on emergency preparedness, including natural disasters, visit Ready.gov.)
If water lines are down, those living in base housing should contact Forest City at (803) 499- 3074 with any questions or concerns. Dorm residents should contact the 20th Civil Engineering Squadron for information concerning water outages.
Another potential issue that could arise from "breaks in the line" is the presence of sediment in the water supply.
Sediments are trace amounts of harmless minerals eroded from pre-existing rocks in the environment and can be found in domestic waterlines introduced by a "break in the line".
"Drinking water doesn't consist entirely of H2O. There are always very small trace amounts of minerals present in the water," Kramer explained. "However, these sediments are not harmful to your health."
If water becomes discolored in appearance or there is a noticeable difference in taste, sediment might be present in disproportionate amounts. To solve this problem, turn the water source in question on, and leave it on until the bulk of the sediment has washed out of the line, and the water is clear again. This practice is known as "flushing the line".
Shaw's bioenvironmental Airmen constantly monitor and test the base's water system to ensure the water supply remains safe to use and consume even when accidental "breaks in the line" and water outages may occur (due largely in part to construction).
"We just want the base to know that the water is safe to drink," Trivett concluded. "It's safe because we ensure Team Shaw gets the best possible product, at all times."