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NEWS | Aug. 30, 2012

Is it safe? Clean water is their mission

By Airman 1st Class Ashlee Galloway Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

With more than 500,000 gallons of water running through Joint Base Charleston's taps and water fountains during the summer months, and hundreds of people drinking this water every day, it is up to one flight to keep Joint Base Charleston occupants safe.

The 628th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Bioenvironmental Engineering flight, located in Bldg. 631, is responsible for testing all the water used in JB Charleston facilities. If the water tests positive for harmful bacteria or does not meet Air Force standards, serious illness can occur.

"At Bioenvironmental Engineering, we take samples of the water from 27 different locations on base, including the Air Base, Weapons Station and the North Auxiliary Field," said Staff Sgt. Jessica McFelia, 628th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Bioenvironmental Engineering flight noncommissioned officer in charge of the Environmental Protection Element. "Each week we take about six or seven samples until all 27 sites have been sampled for the month."

Bioenvironmental Engineering Airmen test for chlorine and coliform bacteria. The Airmen also check the Potential Hydrogen balances.

When testing for chlorine, Bioenvironmental engineers collect 10 milliliters of water from the tap and add a packet of media to the sample, to determine if the chlorine level is acceptable.

A media packet consists of powders that react with water by changing colors to determine if there are any dangerous chemicals in the water. The sample will turn yellow if positive for coliform bacteria or a bluish color if it is positive for E. coli bacteria.

To test for coliform bacteria, they take 100 milliliters of water and add a separate packet of media, then allow the sample to incubate for 24 hours. Once the sample is done incubating, the engineers determine whether or not it is positive or negative for coliform bacteria.

According to McFelia, if a test sample comes back positive for coliform bacteria, Bioenvironmental Engineering personnel take additional samples from a point upstream and downstream from the suspect location. All three samples are taken within 24 hours of finding a positive sample.

If a test sample comes back positive for E. coli, Bioenvironmental Engineering contacts the 628th CES Operations Flight Water and Fuel System Maintenance to flush the pipes and issue a 'boil water' notice that is in effect until two consecutive negative samples are taken 24 hours apart.

"We work alongside the 628th CES Operations Flight Water and Fuel System Maintenance," said McFelia. "They dig, fix and flush the pipes after a repair to remove the dirty water before putting the system back into service. That is when 628th CES calls Bioenvironmental Engineering to take a sample of the water and verify the water is safe to drink and free of harmful contaminants."

"Not only is the Drinking Water Surveillance program implemented to maintain compliance, but it is also important in protecting the health of the base population by ensuring the water is safe to drink, which directly affects the quality and efficiency of the installation's mission," said Capt. Richard Yon, 628th Aerospace Medical Squadron Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight commander.

For more information on Joint Base Charleston's drinking water surveillance, contact the 628th Aerospace Medical Squadron Bioenvironmental Engineering flight at 963-6289.