NORTH SALT LAKE (AP) -- Using an anti-terrorism grant, a consortium of technology companies is developing a system to monitor and quickly purge public water supplies of microbial contamination and keep people informed every step of the way.
The system could respond to earthquakes that introduce natural contaminates or tampering of drinking water supplies.
The technology worked flawlessly in 100,000 tests last week and "looks promising," said A. Richard Melton, deputy Utah state health director. "This has the potential to revolutionize drinking-water safety."
Operating as a consortium called WaterWorks LLC, the four companies began a round of tests last week at a Davis County water-treatment plant. The testing is being funded with a $40,000 state grant relayed from federal aid for terrorism prevention.
It takes several days for water managers to analyze samples by growing suspect bacteria in petri dishes -- a standard test that looks only for fecal chloroforms or bacterial contaminants from warm-blooded animals.
"In other words, if the water were laced with anthrax, it would still meet current regulatory rules," said Stan Parrish, president of two Salt Lake-based companies, WaterWorks and WaterWare.
Parrish said his optical detection technology can reveal deadly viruses, bacteria or spores by fluorescent illumination.
Computer software could transmit that data by wireless telecommunication to a remote computer or a central government clearinghouse, said Walter R. Ellis Jr., a program manager at the Utah State University Research Foundation.
Ellis and seven other engineers and scientists plan to detail the process in the January/February issue of "IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology" magazine.
Utah State University has spun off a company named MicroBioSystems headed by Christopher Lloyd to operate the detection equipment.
Lloyd said last week's results demonstrated that sensors didn't once give off false positives by incorrectly flagging a deadly pathogen. More tests are scheduled for this week.
Another Utah company, ECONOVA, is developing a patented system to quickly cleanse culinary water of contaminants.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)