A.  Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units

The Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units (ROWPUs) fielded by the US were the principal sources for the land-based production of drinking water for American troops in the Gulf. The ROWPU is essentially a pressure-driven straining device that separates impurities from water by forcing it through filters. In combination with a specialized membrane, the filters reject suspended and dissolved impurities and most color and odor-causing compounds. After this first filtration stage, the water must pass through three post-treatment cylinders: a radiological cylinder containing resin beads which absorb radioactive ions; a biological cylinder containing chlorine to kill any waterborne organisms; and a chemical cylinder containing carbon that absorbs a number of different chemicals, including chemical warfare agents.[18]

American water production teams initially had difficulty producing enough potable water with the 150,000-gallon per day ROWPUs to meet the water requirements of US forces arriving in theater. At the beginning of Desert Shield, the purification units were set up at coastal locations, where the Persian Gulf was the primary source of incoming water. The seawater was so salty and mineral laden, the ROWPUs were not able to produce freshwater at the most efficient or effective capacities and initial water production output was well below expected levels.[19],[20] It was estimated that as of the end of September 1990, the water purification teams were able to meet no more than 20 percent of the predicted capacity of 150,000 gallons per day.[21] ROWPUs set up inland, using less salty ground water sources, showed marked improvements in performance.[22]

Doctrine and plans called for many inland forces to come to water supply points to get water, which would have been run through ROWPUs distributed across the area of operations. In practice, not all units received ROWPUs or had access to ROWPU-processed water. In some instances, unassembled purification units or ones with missing parts were delivered to units. In addition, in order to meet the huge demand for water requirements in theater, American and Coalition water purification specialists at times altered equipment to produce faster water flow rates. While this may have produced more water, the modifications to increase flow rates shortened the life of the filters, for as the flow rate increased, filter service life decreased.[23],[24],[25] Problems with filters and inadequate supplies of replacement filters and membranes caused delays in water processing and delivery to some units in the field and a number of units were forced to rely on host nation water delivered by tankers.[26],[27]

B.  Petroleum, Oils, and Lubricants Tankers Transporting Water

Many veterans asked questions about the use of Petroleum, Oils, and Lubricants (POL) transport tankers being used to carry water. According to Field Manual 10-280, this was an acceptable practice for the movement and storage of water, once the tanks in question were super-chlorinated to 200 parts per million of water, allowed to sit, and then flushed out thoroughly.[28] However, contemporaneous reporting and interviews with veterans indicate that the presence of petroleum, oils, and lubricants in water, especially in water designated for hygiene purposes, was wide-spread.[29],[30]

C.  Inability to Perform Timely Field Tests

Due to shortcomings in technology and the inability to obtain on-the-spot water testing results, water samples taken in the field had to be sent to military laboratories in Al Jubayl, Saudi Arabia; Cairo, Egypt; Bethesda, Maryland; Naples, Italy; Lima, Peru; Bangkok, Thailand; Washington, DC; and Porton Down, United Kingdom, among others.[31] Preventive medicine personnel often faced the unenviable task of having to decide whether to validate a water source or well site as usable because the water was needed or not validate it because testing results would not be received for 24 to 72 hours.[32]

D.  Many Field Sanitation Teams Not Trained in Water Purification

Each company-size Army unit was to appoint, train, and provide supplies for field sanitation personnel who, in addition to their regular duties, would perform water purification and testing. However, interviews with veterans and contemporaneous reporting from Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm indicated that field sanitation teams were often ineffective. Many units never fully trained their appointed teams in aspects of field sanitation.[33] The lack of training in water testing and purification procedures was critical because field sanitation teams were often the unit’s initial protection against water contamination due to a shortage of preventive medicine or quartermaster personnel available to inspect a unit’s water supply. One report in reference to the Army’s field sanitation operations concluded, "Field sanitation teams are inadequately trained and equipped; they are ineffective as the first-line PM [Preventive Medicine] support for units."[34]

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