Climate Change, Terrorism Concerns, and Technology Choice in the Water Industry

By Ronald Whitfield and Francis Brown.

Published by The International Journal of Sustainability Policy and Practice

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The disinfection of drinking water using chlorine and chlorine-related products has been practiced for over 100 years. Consumers in the U.S. take the availability of safe drinking water for granted because the treatment plants that perform these functions operate so reliably and they are generally out of the public’s eye. Various groups have made proposals to modify these well-established practices by restricting the movement of chlorine gas on the rail transportation system due to potential terrorist threats and security concerns or by promoting alternative disinfection technologies. Many of these proposals sound simple to implement yet few have examined the implications of these changes on the U.S. economy or society at large. The objective of this research is to systematically collect data on the 52,000 community water systems in the U.S. to develop a better understanding of the societal and macroeconomic impacts of these potential regulatory actions and technology choices. Specifically, we developed a detailed quantitative model of U.S. disinfection practices, and used this model to estimate the impact of these proposed changes along three important dimensions of the economy—the impact on the nation’s electrical energy consumption, the impact on the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the impact on the nation’s transportation system. This research is intended to provide a broad perspective on this issue. When sweeping changes are being considered for something as critical as the nation’s safe drinking water supply, the public expects regulators and experts to act on the basis of valid and reliable information. This study is intended to begin to close the information gap and contribute to a fact-based and balanced evaluation of alternative disinfectant technologies.

Keywords: Water, Disinfection, Climate Change, Terrorism, Chlorine, On-site Generation

The International Journal of Sustainability Policy and Practice, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp.97-107. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 819.602KB).

Dr. Ronald Whitfield

Executive Professor, College of Business Administration, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Dr. Whitfield is Executive Professor at Northeastern University's D’Amore-McKim School of Business and Founding Director of its Business Sustainability Initiative. He developed the school’s sustainability program that includes innovative courses, business case research, and international field research programs. He is a seasoned business consultant with expertise in strategic planning, environmental economics, international trade, and market/technology assessments. His experience spans the chemical, energy/utility, pharmaceutical, and automotive industries. Previously, he was a partner/officer in two major consulting companies.

Francis Brown

Senior Consultant, Concord, MA, USA

Dr. Brown has over 30 years of experience in staff positions and management consulting in the chemical, manufacturing, and process industries. His areas of specialization include project organization and management; technical feasibility studies dealing with market analysis, economics, safety, and environmental control; and process development and optimization. He also has extensive experience in chemical and extractive metallurgical process technology, and materials development, and in the use of computer-aided techniques for process design, evaluation, and synthesis. Dr. Brown completed his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering and a Ph.D. in Biochemical Engineering.