The coronavirus pandemic might make buildings sick, too

https://phys.org/news/2020-04-coronavirus-pandemic-sick.html

The coronavirus pandemic might make buildings sick, too

by Caitlin R. Proctor, Andrew J. Whelton and William Rhoads, The Conversation

While millions of people are under orders to stay home amid the coronavirus pandemic, water is sitting in the pipes of empty office buildings and gyms, getting old and potentially dangerous.

When water isn’t flowing, organisms and chemicals can build up in the plumbing. It can happen in underused gyms, office buildings, schools, shopping malls and other facilities. These organisms and chemicals can reach unsafe levels when water sits in water pipes for just a few days. But, what happens when water sits for weeks or months?

There are no long-term studies of the risks and only minimal guidance to help building owners prepare their water for use again after a long shutdown.

As researchers involved in building water safety, we study these risks and advise building owners and public officials on actions they can take to reduce the potential for widespread waterborne disease. A new paper highlights these issues and our concerns that the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders may increase the chance of harmful water exposure when people return.

What happens when water gets old?

Just like food that sits in a refrigerator for too long, water that sits in a building’s pipes for too long can make people sick.

Harmful organisms, like the bacteria that cause Legionnaire’s disease, can grow. If not maintained, devices like filters, water tanks, heaters and softeners can become organism incubators.

With certain pipe materials, water can accumulate unsafe levels of lead and copper, which can cause learning disabilities, cardiovascular effects, nausea and diarrhea.

Drinking this water is a problem, but infections can also result from inhaling harmful organisms. This occurs when water splashes and becomes an aerosol, as can happen in showers, hot tubs and pools and when flushing toilets or washing hands. Some of these organisms can cause pneumonia-like diseases, especially in people who have weakened immune systems.

Water inside a building does not have an expiration date: Problems can develop within days at individual faucets, and all buildings with low water use are at risk.

Keep the water flowing

To avoid water issues, “fresh” water must regularly flow to a building’s faucets. Most U.S. water providers add a chemical disinfectant to the water they deliver to kill organisms, but this chemical disappears over time.

Medical facilities, with their vulnerable populations, are required to have a building water safety plan to keep water fresh and prevent growth. Schools, which have long periods of low use during the summer, are advised to keep water fresh to reduce water’s lead levels.

Health agencies in the U.S., Canada, England, Europe and some states have released recommendations in recent weeks, advising that building water be kept fresh during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. There’s some debate over the best way to do that, but the core message is the same: Do not let water sit in buildings. Flushing accomplishes several goals. Credit: Caitlin Proctor/Purdue University

If water isn’t being used in a building, intentionally flushing the building to replace all the old water with new water can be done at least weekly. It also helps remove sediments that accumulate along pipe walls.

Faucets, water heaters and softeners, appliances such as refrigerators, toilets and other water systems, including cooling towers, all need to have water turnover. Some of these can require specialized attention. Faucet aerators should be removed because they accumulate materials and slow down the flow.

How long flushing takes depends on the building’s piping design, devices and the speed of water exiting the faucets. All buildings are different.

It took more than 80 minutes of flushing to draw fresh water to the farthest faucet of one 10,000-square-foot building. In another building, it took 60 minutes just to get fresh water from the water meter to the basement of a building 30 feet from the street. A single large building may take hours or days to clear.

Easier to avoid contamination than clean it up

For building managers who haven’t been running the water during the pandemic, the water sitting in pipes may already have significant problems. To perform flushing, safety equipment, including masks, currently in short supply, might be needed to protect workers.

A slow “ramp-up” of the economy means buildings will not reach normal water use for some time. These buildings may need flushing again and again.

Shock disinfection, adding a high level of disinfectant chemical to the plumbing to kill organisms living in it, may also be necessary. This is required for new buildings and is sometimes done when water in new buildings sits still for too long.

Inexpensive chemical disinfectant tests can help determine if the water is “fresh.” Testing for harmful organisms is recommended by some organizations. It can take several days and requires expertise to interpret results. Metals testing might be needed, too. Public health departments can provide specific recommendations for all of these actions and communication of risks.

The need for standards and water safety

Water left sitting in the pipes of buildings can present serious health risks.

Standards are lacking and very much needed for restarting plumbing and ensuring continued water safety after the pandemic passes.

Right now, building managers can take immediate action to prevent people from becoming sick when they return.


Explore further

Water quality could change in buildings closed down during COVID-19 pandemic, engineers say


Provided by The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.                                             

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Waste Water: Orange County’s pioneering wastewater recycling system embarks on major expansion – Orange County Register

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WATER – a DEADLY LIE Being Spread by the CONtrollers

We Are “NOT” Running Out of WATER – Water IS a Renewable – Do Not be Tricked
 
Learn More – Go to PrimaryWater.org  
 
Listen to the You Tube video “Primary Water Explained”
 
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In India -Chennai’s the latest city to have almost run out of water, and other cities could
follow suit – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) – Media Psyops

Chennai’s the latest city to have almost run out of water, and other cities could follow suit

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Video: Chennai authorities have introduced a token system to stop fighting over water. (ABC News)

Chennai is a city that has withstood the rise and fall of empires, but it now faces a grave existential crisis as it runs dry due to a severe water shortage, leaving millions in the lurch.

This week, taps ran dry as water levels in its four major reservoirs fell to one-hundredth of what they were this time last year, caused by a devastating drought.

The crisis in India’s sixth-largest city — with a population bigger than Melbourne and Sydney combined — has pushed schools, hotels and commercial establishments to close, while hospitals have put off non-essential surgeries.

Millions of people are lining up at water trucks to fill containers of water in a crisis that’s hit urban and rural Indians alike, and usually only half leave with their pots filled.

But the problem isn’t confined to Chennai — in the western state of Maharashtra, some are so desperate for water they are lining up their pots two days before water tankers are due to arrive.

Children as young as 10 were being sent to fetch water a train ride away, hauling back containers of water almost as big as they were.

While India faces its worst long-term water crisis in its history as demand outstrips supply, its story is one that is becoming increasingly common in rapidly urbanising countries around the globe.

Urbanisation and poor planning drive water scarcity

Abroad, climate change — coupled with rapid urbanisation and population growth — have brought issues around water scarcity and security into focus.

Amid this context, attention has been cast on how municipal authorities have mismanaged the responses to these mounting ecological crises.

Cape Town, a city of more than 4.2 million people in South Africa, faced its worst water crisis in history between 2015 and mid-2018.

As dam levels fell to record lows, some at less than 10 per cent, authorities prepared for Day Zero — where taps were to be shut off with citizens restricted to 25 litres per day.

In Northern Africa, the Egyptian capital of Cairo could run out of water because Ethiopia is damming the Nile River, which currently provides the city with 97 per cent of its water supply.

In the United States, damming of the Colorado River — combined with a 19-year drought — has led some officials to determine that some reservoirs fed by the river will never be full again.

The Colorado stretches across the southwest of the country, being a source of water for some of the region’s biggest cities such as Los Angeles, San Diego and Las Vegas.

In Asia, 3.4 billion people could be living in “water stressed areas” by 2050, according to a 2016 Asia Development Bank (ADB) report.

“Water shortage should be treated as a permanent ongoing issue,” said Thuy Trang Dang, an urban development and water specialist at the ADB’s Southeast Asia office.

Diets filled with more water-demanding meat and dairy products and general growth in consumption also mean “the issue will only become more pressing unless dealt with not as a one-time crisis but as a way of life”, she said.

Australia, the world’s driest inhabited continent, not immune

Australia is the world’s driest inhabited continent.

Over centuries, Australia’s environment has absorbed a number of dry spells, but recent pressures are disrupting a traditionally resilient environment.

The Murray-Darling Basin — a vast river system that stretches across South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland — faces severe stress as a result of drought and what a 2019 royal commission said was due to “gross maladministration”.

“Australia has an uncertain climate that looks like it may be becoming drier in the south, where the majority of the population live,” says Ian Wright of the University of Western Sydney.

Experts have said that Cape Town-style crisis could theoretically play out in Perth, which shares the problem of a drying climate.

The construction of two large desalination plants, however, will likely mean that the West Australian capital is better prepared for climate change than its South African counterpart.

Melbourne, which previously only had a year’s supply of water at the height of the Millennium Drought, also has a desalination plant.

The plant, combined with a pipeline fed from the Goulburn River in Victoria’s north, now have the potential to supply over half of the city’s water.

But according to a report from Melbourne Water in 2017, projections show that it is possible the city’s demand for water could exceed the capacity of its existing sources of water by 2028.

Melbourne could be facing shortfalls of more than 450GL (almost the entire volume of Sydney Harbour) per year by 2065, if water resources weren’t managed well, it said.

Chennai tells the story of a changing world

Part of the reason for Chennai’s current predicament is due to its groundwater depletion, a situation that government think-tank Niti Aayog warned about last year.

It said it was one of 21 cities that it thought could run out of ground water by 2020.

India uses more ground water than any other country, a problem successive governments have failed to tackle, said environmental campaigner Himanshu Thakkar.

“We use more groundwater than what China and the United States collectively use,” Mr Thakkar said.

“Countries like the US identify and protect their groundwater recharge zones. What have we done?”

But Chennai’s groundwater depletion isn’t the sole reason for its current crisis, as drier climatic conditions have exacerbated water scarcity.

Drought followed a 62 per cent shortfall in monsoon rains last year compared to 2017, according to government officials.

Meteorologists said monsoon rains usually cover two-thirds of the country by mid-June. However, they currently have reached less than half that area.

But the monsoon’s progress is expected to pick up in the next 10 days.

Poor rainfall has ravaged crops, dried up reservoirs and forced people to migrate from their villages.

In Maharashtra, many have gone to work farming sugar cane — a thirsty crop that devours two-thirds of its irrigation water, exacerbating the problem.

Meanwhile, in northern and eastern parts of India, temperatures soared to 48 degrees Celsius.

In one eastern state, Bihar, at least 90 people have died of heat stroke this month alone.

The state of Tamil Nadu, where Chennai is located, has asked other states across the country for spare water until monsoon rains fall.

ABC/Wires

Topics: droughtenvironmentwaterwater-managementclimate-changewater-supplyindiaasiasouth-africanswaustraliaunited-states

 

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Effect of Climate Change on Water Supplies

Effect of Climate Change on Water Supplies

Climate Change is projected to reduce water supplies mostly in the southwestern, central and southeastern regions of the United States. Today 10 percent of counties are at high or extreme risk of water shortages, and in 2050 that proportion of at-risk counties will grow to 32 percent. Projections assume an increase in greenhouse gas emissions through 2050 and a slow decline after.

 

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