Canadian Underwriter

Under-used buildings increase this risk during pandemic

April 29, 2020   by Greg Meckbach

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Brokers and their commercial business clients returning to the office after a long shutdown may want to think twice before drinking the tap water.

Business shutdowns affecting commercial property as a result of the coronavirus mean less water is running through the fresh water pipes, a study recently published by Purdue University points out.

“As people begin using the water again, they will encounter extremely stagnated water with excessive lead, copper, and bacterial concentrations, [which] may include harmful organisms like legionella that can cause disease outbreaks,” nine authors wrote in Considerations for Large Building Water Quality after Extended Stagnation. The study was released by the Lyles School of Engineering and Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering at Purdue.

The phenomenon could apply to offices, malls, event venues, restaurants, schools, day care centres, places of worship, libraries, museums and other facilities.

People in charge of such buildings may need to recommission the plumbing systems, the authors say in the study, which is in the “pre-publication stage,” meaning it has not been peer-reviewed yet.

But now that the paper it is available to the public, it offers several tips for risk and property managers.

For example, consider refreshing the plumbing by flushing fixtures at least once a week. This way, fresh water could help prevent harmful organisms from growing in plumbing. This can also dispose of water with high levels of lead and copper.

Commercial clients should contact their public health departments for advice about building water safety and pass that information along to building occupants, the study suggests. The study’s authors include Andrew Whelton, a Purdue associate professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering, and Michèle Prévost, an engineering professor at Polytechnique Montréal whose areas of expertise include water supply.

The study also recommends that the business contact a plumber or engineer for assistance.

Not all buildings should necessarily go through the same process for restoring water quality.

“Building water stagnation has been identified as a potentially serious chemical and microbiological health concern for occupants. Health officials, building owners, utilities, and other entities are rapidly developing guidance.”

For the study, researchers collected water at sinks and water fountains from buildings, measuring temperature, oxygen and the concentration in heavy metals and microbial communities.

The study was funded by several organizations, including the United States National Science Foundation and Lillian Gilbreth Fellowship Program at Purdue University, which is based about halfway between Detroit and Chicago in Lafayette, Indiana.

Contributors included plumbing safety scientists and engineers from Virginia Tech; Legionella Risk Management Inc.; Arizona State University; the University of Memphis; the University of Iowa; Northeastern University; and Polytechnique Montréal in Canada.

In addition to Whelton and Prévost, the other authors were: Purdue University’s Caitlin Proctor; Virginia Tech’s William Rhoads; Tim Keane, Consulting Engineer, Legionella Risk Management Inc.; The University of Memphis’s Maryam Salehi; Arizona State University’s Kerry Hamilton; Northeastern University’s Kelsey Pieper; and The University of Iowa’s David Cwiertny.


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