The water treatment system in the city of Oldsmar in Pinellas County was hacked remotely on Friday, Jan. 5, and the amount of sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, was increased to more than 100 times its normal levels, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said at a press conference on Monday.
Sodium hydroxide is used in small amounts to control acidity in water, but can be corrosive in larger amounts and is found in household cleaning supplies, including drain and oven cleaners.
“This is somebody who is trying, as it appears on the surface, to do something bad. It’s a bad act. It’s a bad actor,” he told reporters.
“This isn’t just, ‘Oh, we’re putting a little bit of chlorine or a little bit of fluoride, or a little bit of something,’ we’re basically talking about lye that you are taking from 100 parts per million to 11,100,” he added, noting that these were “dangerous” levels.
The targeted plant is the main source of drinking water for the city’s 15,000 residents.
According to a statement from the sheriff’s office, it was notified by the City of Oldsmar that their computer system was remotely accessed at 8 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. by an unknown suspect.
A plant operator who was remotely monitoring the city’s water supply said that he didn’t find it unusual about the remote access at 8 a.m. because his supervisor remotely accesses the system regularly. But by 1:30 p.m., the system was accessed again and this time the operator saw that that the concentration was being manipulated on his computer screen to more than 100 times its usual levels.
“The person … remotely accessed the system for about three to five minutes, opening various functions on the screen,” Gualtieri told reporters.
“At no time was there a significant effect on the water being treated, and more importantly the public was never in danger,” he stated, adding that even if the operator hadn’t caught the manipulation, it would have taken more than a day for the contaminated water to enter the city’s water supply.
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI, and the Secret Service are investigating the situation. No one has been arrested. Gaultieri said it is unclear why Oldsmar was targeted.
City officials told reporters at the conference that there are other safeguards in place that help stop contaminated water from entering the water supply. They also said that they have disabled the remote-access system used in the attack.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Twitter announced that the incident “should be treated as a matter of national security.”
Sodium hydroxide poisoning can cause breathing difficulties, severe abdominal pain, vision loss, a rapid drop in blood pressure, and even death, according to the University of Florida Health System. The onset of such effects depends on how much of the poison is present in the water.
“The long-term outcome depends on the extent of this damage. Damage to the esophagus and stomach continues to occur for several weeks after the poison was swallowed. Death may occur as long as a month later,” according to the university’s website.
From The Epoch Times