Reopening Building Plumbing Safely After COVID-19 Pandemic Closures
When buildings have had low or no water use—for example, during COVID-19 pandemic closures—it is important to know how to restart building plumbing systems safely.
Normally, water is actively flowing in buildings: it is pulled in from the water main via the service line, then flows to, and exits from, taps, appliances and other fittings. Before sending water out to the public water mains, the public water system (water utility) undertakes a variety of treatments to ensure that tap water meets federal and state standards.
These treatments include corrosion control to prevent lead from flaking or leaching out of any lead-containing pipes, and disinfectants (usually chlorine) to inhibit microbial growth. However, these protections break down when water is not flowing. This raises the risk of presence of heavy metals in water, such as lead and copper, and of opportunistic pathogens, such as Legionella bacteria that can cause illness.
Owners or operators of buildings that have had little or no use during pandemic closures should be aware of these potential health hazards in water systems. A simple but specialized flushing program is recommended to remove any stagnant water or biofilm buildup in the plumbing system.
UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute partnered with Purdue University Center for Plumbing Safety to produce an “info-sheet” providing a brief description of the problem together with a curated list of resources targeted to the owners or operators of large buildings, particularly schools. A webinar, checklists for reopening plumbing, and downloadable flushing plans are among the resource links provided. Click here for this handy resource.