With the closure of restaurants, stadiums and schools, there is currently a lot of idling water in plumbing systems. Scientists say this is not a healthy situation. Standing water can build up heavy metals and harmful bacteria, such as those that sometimes cause Legionnaires’ disease.
The Environmental Protection Agency has issued guidelines on how closed facilities can protect their water systems – every time people return.
So which water systems are at risk?
“All of them,” said Caitlin Proctor, a microbiologist at Purdue University. “Any building that has used less water than normal will experience some kind of deterioration in water quality. “
Proctor co-wrote a report raising concerns about the build-up of lead and copper. But she’s particularly concerned about certain types of bacteria – with fancy scientific names.
“These include Legionella pneumophila, Mycobacterium avium,” she said.
One way to kill bad bugs is “shock disinfection”. That’s when an engineer floods the pipes with a cargo of bleach before people start using the water again. But it can cost tens of thousands of dollars per building. Proctor said there is a cheaper alternative.
“The best way to prevent these kinds of problems is to keep the water moving,” she said.
After people are gone, keep faucets – and other plumbing fixtures – on. Simple enough for a freestanding office building, but what if you run, say, a huge college campus with the length of a marathon of water pipes and north of 100 buildings? Can you really keep all those toilets flush?
“In fact, we are,” said Gary Rudolph, senior director of utilities at the University of Central Florida. Usually, the campus plumbing services 40,000 students. But now things are pretty calm, Rudolph said. In the absence of students, leaving the water running is a full-time job. Maintenance crews visit each building every two weeks.
They “make sure all urinals are emptied, toilets are emptied [and] the taps are on, ”Rudolph said. It is essential work that costs $ 1,300 per day in labor. But Rudolph said the empty school uses water at two-thirds of its normal rate. “If there are showers in the building, we manage them. “
Although resources are exhausted, he hopes this will save the university from having to pay for shock disinfection down the line.
“And when people come back to campus, it will just be normal,” Rudolph said. “You’ve just come home, take a shower, drink some water. Do what you normally do when they were here before.
We still do not know when the students will be back to do the rinsing.