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Water Quality in Low Occupancy and Shutdown Buildings

There are no government or industry standards for returning plumbing for large buildings to safe use after COVID-19 caused shutdowns.

This study was conducted to help public health officials, building owners, and water utilities better understand building water quality due to low or no occupancy in buildings. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Canada, England, and those in Europe have both warned of potential building water safety issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Study Overview

  • Title: Considerations for Large Building Water Quality after Extended Stagnation
  • Brief Overview: The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak prompted the closure and reopening of previously shutdown large buildings globally. 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. A synthesis of peer-reviewed, government, industry, and nonprofit literature relevant to the implications of water stagnation in plumbing systems and decontamination practices on water quality and health was conducted. A primer of large building plumbing preventative and remedial strategies is provided to inform ongoing efforts to develop recommissioning guidance. Preventative practices to help avoid the need for recommissioning and specific actions, challenges, and limitations associated with recommissioning were identified and characterized. Considerations for worker and occupant safety were also indicated. The responsibility for building water safety was identified to be shared between the building owner, drinking water provider, and local and state public health authorities.

The Authors Are

  • Caitlin R. Proctor, Ph.D. is a College of Engineering Lillian Gilbreth Postdoctoral Fellow at Purdue University. 

  • William Rhoads, Ph.D. is a Research Scientist at Virginia Tech.

  • Tim Keane is a consulting engineer with Legionella Risk Management, Inc.    

  • Maryam Salehi, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Memphis.

  • Kerry Hamilton, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment with a joint appointment at the Biodesign Institute Center for Environmental Health Engineering, Arizona State University.

  • Kelsey J. Pieper, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Northeastern University.

  • David R. Cwiertny, Ph.D. is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Iowa (UI) and the Director of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination and the Environmental Policy Research Program through the UI Public Policy Center.

  • Michele Prévost, Ph.D. is Professor and Principal Chair Holder in Civil, Geological and Mining Engineering at Polytechnique Montreal. She holds and NSERC Industrial Chair on Drinking Water.

  • Andrew J. Whelton, Ph.D. (to whom correspondence may be addressed, is an Associate Professor at the Lyles School of Engineering and Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering at Purdue University.