Over the past year COVID has affected business operations with many working at a reduced capacity. As things begin to open it is important to minimize potential hazards, including the risk of Legionella and other pathogens, and potential increased levels of copper, lead, and other heavy metals.
We take care of many buildings that have very little to no occupancy. We have been asked by many of these customers to conduct microbiological testing on the potable water. In many cases, unfortunately, positives are detected. The true challenge is how and when to remediate. The HOW we have a handle on, the WHEN becomes more of a challenge. If we disinfect today yet the building stays empty for another 2 months, we could be right back where we started with positives. In a perfect world, we would disinfect two weeks prior to occupancy. But what does occupancy look like... 20%, 50%, 100%? As we know, without flow – bugs will grow. Managing this challenge is an ongoing task that will ensure we continue to deliver safe and clean water to the occupants. In this article we are sharing some recommended guidelines and lists for areas that should be addressed when opening a building that has operated at a reduced capacity. Work with your water treatment partner to identify when and how to assure your building water system is safe.
Guidance and Recommended Actions for Returning Water Systems to Regular Use
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has provided guidance for maintaining water quality in building water systems and safety protocols for potable water distribution systems when moving from working at a reduced capacity back to regular use.
Taking proactive steps to return to regular use levels will help ensure the safety of building occupants. Below is a list based on recommendations by IDPH of areas to address when bringing a building back to full operating capacity. It is important to note that this list is meant to be used in conjunction with a comprehensive water management program.
Building Water System Checklist for Returning to Regular Use*
- Contact your water treatment partner: Identify incoming water quality data, recent water system disruptions or water quality changes, determine if water mains should be flushed, and notify of planned disinfection activities and occupancy.
- Consider having a licensed plumber available: If there are malfunctioning valves, leaks, and blockages a licensed plumber will be able to correct these issues.
- Verify backflow devices have been tested within the last 12 months by a certified cross-connection control device inspector (CCCDI).
- Identify all treatment equipment (water softening, filtration, etc.). Follow manufacturer’s recommendations for startup after periods of disuse. Assess whether to bypass treatment when flushing.
- Remove faucet aerators (screens) and filters throughout building water system. This includes filters on ice machines, refrigerators, or beverage dispensers, etc. Aerators should be disinfected or replaced after flushing is complete.
- Flush cold and hot water systems starting with the service line(s) (pipes that connect the potable water source to the building plumbing system). For general flushing strategies see Attachment B in the full memorandum from IDPH. To ensure complete flushing, it is recommended that facilities develop flushing procedures specific to their building’s plumbing system.
- Ensure water heater(s) is set to at least 120°F and verify mixing valves and safety devices are installed, functional, and adjusted to prevent scalding.
- If possible, measure residual disinfectant at point(s) of entry and at representative points of use in the building water system, i.e., points closest to and furthest from where the water enters the building. Contact your water treatment partner to determine the disinfectant being used and whether to measure free or total chlorine.
- Ensure safety equipment including fire sprinkler systems, eye wash stations, and emergency showers are properly functioning and have been flushed, cleaned, and disinfected in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Facilities should consider risk to building occupants and assess whether to collect water samples to test for heavy metals or harmful organisms (see Attachment B).
- Ensure all traps on drain, waste, and vent systems are properly sealed.
- Follow other building water systems startup procedures (Cooling tower, spas, etc.)
- Ensure all plumbing fixtures have been properly cleaned and disinfected prior to use.
* This list is based on IDPH memorandum Guidance for Maintaining Water Systems During Reduced Use and Returning Water Systems to Regular Use after Extended Periods of Reduced Use
How Can Watertech Help?
- Water Management Plans: We can help outline a plan that ensures compliance. Watertech has worked with facilities over 35 years to help minimize risk and improve water safety for building occupants.
- Assist in meeting checklists and guidelines: Following recommendations from CMS, ASHRAE, IDPH and other governing authorities for water quality standards.
- Testing: Watertech can perform water analysis, accurately interpret data, and implement corrective measures if necessary. Watertech uses independent, third-party labs for all Legionella testing. Using independent labs is important to ensure there is no vested interest in outcomes, making the results more defensible.
- Chlorinations: Based on pathogen results and duration of stagnation you may be required to perform an AWWA compliant shock chlorination before reopening.
- Point of Use Filtration: Watertech offers a complete line of FDA cleared filters to aid in infection control for use on ice machines, sinks, shower heads and drinking fountains.
- Supplemental Disinfection: Watertech provides ongoing treatment to protect your domestic water system.
Resources for Responding to Buildings Operating at Reduced Capacity
Click the images below to go to our Knowledge Center and download AWWA’s guide to reopening buildings safely after a complete shut down or reduced use or the full memorandum from IDPH.
If you have any questions or need help assembling a plan for when and how to safely re-open your building, please contact Shayan Beg at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sales Engineer, Watertech of America, Inc.
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