Water, Plumbing, & HVAC Systems: The Health Impacts of COVID-19 & Reopening Guidance

Reopening Guidance For Building Water & Plumbing Systems 

flush water lines

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance to ensure the safety of building water systems and end-use devices after a prolonged shutdown.  Additional information for building owner/operators is in existing CDC resources, such as the Toolkit: Developing a Water Management Program to Reduce Legionella Growth and Spread in Buildings.

Because prolonged building water stagnation can lead to elevated lead, copper, and Legionella levels at the tap, there may be a need to raise awareness about lead and copper or other local water quality considerations.  Therefore, water system owner/operators should be prepared for questions from building owners/operators managing hotels, schools, childcare facilities, office buildings and public buildings.  Properties that are managed as large campuses (e.g., business parks, colleges, etc.) should also consider this CDC guidance. 

Guidance for Building Water Systems: Disinfect and Reduce Legionella Growth

The Ohio Department of Heath and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency issued a joint statement in accordance with Ohio's statewide transition plan announced April 27, 2020, and as buildings re-open that have had little to no water usage during the Stay at Home Order due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to flush water that has been stagnant in both cold- and hot-water distribution lines and fixtures. Low water usage can contribute to bacterial growth, including Legionella which can cause a serious type of pneumonia called Legionnaires' disease. It can also cause other water quality issues with potential health risks due to the build-up of lead and copper in stagnant water that's been collecting in older pipes and fixtures.

As buildings reopen, it is critical to drain, flush, and if necessary, based on a review of building conditions, disinfect the hot and cold-water systems to remove harmful contaminants. Devices that store water, such as drinking water fountains, water heaters, storage tanks, and any droplet or mist-forming devices such as cooling towers, humidifiers, shower heads, and certain medical and manufacturing devices and process equipment should also be flushed and disinfected in accordance with manufacturer's recommendations or industry best practices.  This guidance applies to the water systems of all types of buildings that are unoccupied or partially occupied during the COVID-19 pandemic, including but not limited to office buildings, manufacturing facilities, medical offices (e.g., physician and dentist offices, ambulatory surgery centers, outpatient centers, etc.), government facilities, and religious institutions.

Guidance for Plumbing System Restoration

Guidance for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning Systems

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) have some general guidance and Recommendations in place concerning COVID-19 disease transmission.  The general consensus is to not make the issue worse and to increase outdoor air ventilation and filtration efficiency.  

CDC guidelines, as they relate to modifying HVAC systems to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, state the following:

  • Consider improving the engineering controls using the building ventilation system. This may include some or all of the following activities: 
    • Increase ventilation rates; and 
    • Increase the percentage of outdoor air that circulates into the system.

CDC has some information that may be of help to individuals seeking Assistance with HVAC systems and COVID-19

ASHRAE contains Recommendations and technical resources including:

Finally, this theNEWS article provides interesting information discussing the CDC and ASHRAE response to COVID-19.