Water treatment team in Afghanistan works to protect Soldiers
December 26, 2011
GHAZNI PROVINCE, Afghanistan (Dec. 26, 2011) -- According to the U.S. Army, water pollution from raw sewage is the most significant environmental contamination problem in Afghanistan and is one of the most significant health threats to deployed personnel.
A U.S. study of bacterial contamination in water sources found that 65 percent of protected, closed wells and 90 percent of open wells were contaminated with coliform bacteria.
Spc. Jeremy Seamon, a water treatment specialist with 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke, said the daily routine of purification, monitoring and testing associated with ensuring water safety at Forward Operating Base Andar, in eastern Afghanistan, isn't something most people usually think about.
"It's our job to make sure people can take it for granted that the water will be there when they need it," said Seamon.
Drawing water from an on-base well, Seamon and co-worker Spc. Charles Duenas oversee a facility capable of treating 30,000-40,000 gallons daily. Andar is the only coalition installation in the TF Duke battle-space with its own treatment facility.
Although the treated water remains non-potable, it can be used for high-volume uses like showers, flushing toilets, washing clothes and cleaning kitchen utensils.
While Seamon's team may operate out of sight and out of mind of most, their efforts haven't gone unnoticed by those responsible for making FOB Andar function effectively during the deployment.
"We never have the fear of losing water capacity here like a lot of other places," said Command Sgt. Maj. Walter Tagalicud, 3rd BCT, 1st Inf. Div., TF Duke.
Tagalicud, said the unsung heroes make daily living not only possible, but more comfortable than it would otherwise be.
"[The water capacity] gives the Soldiers the benefit of a longer shower, and not just a combat shower," he said.
Before Seamon and Duenas can begin the treatment process, a preventive medicine team checks for contaminants such as fecal or e-coli bacteria. If contaminants are present and left untreated, outbreaks of dysentery or diarrhea could result.
Once the preventive medicine team signs-off on the well, Seamon and Duenas then test for any nuclear, biological or chemical contaminants. If the testing proves negative, water purification can begin.
Fortunately, according to Seamon, the process is made significantly easier by the initial quality of the product.
"The well water here is pretty good to begin with," said Seamon.
The team treats tanks, containing thousands of gallons of well water pumped from underground, with calcium hypochloride tablets, to effectively kill or neutralize any remaining contaminants. Water samples are then evaluated for turbidity, ph, and chlorine levels using what Seamon refers to as a "wasp" kit.
Turbidity refers to an acceptable level of dissolved solids in the water, while ph measures whether a liquid is an acid or a base. Pure water, for example, is said to be neutral with a desired ph level of seven.
Upon being treated, the non-potable water is safe to be used across the installation for the many high-volume uses with the laundry and showers being the biggest users.
As far as Tagalicud is concerned, Seamon and Duenas make FOB Andar work by eliminating those water-borne scares that have the potential to not only compromise mission effectiveness but harm lives.
"We know where our water is coming from and that it's safe," he said.