Businesses Turn Water Back on for Yellow Phase
Before declaring all systems go, facilities need to take precautions
Even as many local businesses have not stood idle during shutdown, their vacated physical locations have not seen action in a solid two months. As Erie and many other northwestern and north-central counties enter the Yellow Phase of reopening this week, the Pennsylvania departments of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Health (DOH) have issued guidance to building owners and administrators to facilitate a safe return to the office.
Still water runs deep — with health risks that may send employees home or to the hospital just as readily as COVID-19, according to DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. "As buildings have been shut down or used less frequently as a result of COVID-19 mitigation efforts, building water quality degradation becomes a silent but serious issue. Legionella, pathogens, lead, and disinfection byproducts can result when water sits for an extended period of time, which may lead to health issues."
Rather than flushing out potential employees and customers, the DEP recommends first flushing your pipes.
Assess and inventory where water enters the building, through taps (faucets, shower heads, water fountains, etc.) and water-using equipment (such as dishwashers or ice machines)
Remove aerators (debris may collect here) and cross-connections (to prevent backflow into plumbing systems)
Flush the entire building zone by zone, cold water lines before hot, starting where the water enters the building and moving outward to the branches of your system.
Use indicators such as temperature change or a chlorine smell to discern whether fresh water has reached all fixtures.
Clean the fixtures afterward to remove contamination
Inspect and perform maintenance on all related mechanical equipment — water heaters, boilers, storage tanks, backflow prevention devices, etc.
"As we carefully and intentionally determine which businesses are safe to reopen, we must also make sure they reopen in a manner that is protective of employees and customers," said DOH Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine.
Along with a flushing plan, businesses should take other preventive measures, such as thoroughly cleaning out HVAC vents and ducts, vacuuming, and disinfecting surfaces in common areas and workstations. As we figure out how to get productivity and profitability recirculating, we must take care to keep microbes (including SARS-CoV2) out of our workflow.
Matt Swanseger, an Erie Reader fixture, can be reached at email@example.com