A notice issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on May 21 urged businesses to flush their plumbing in order to mitigate the hazards of mold and Legionella bacteria in the pipes.
According to the notice from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, “The temporary shutdown or reduced operation of a building and reductions in normal water use can create hazards for returning occupants; these hazards can include mold and Legionella. After a prolonged shutdown, building owners and employers should ensure that their building does not have mold and that the water system is safe to use to minimize the risk of Legionnaires’ disease. Guidance on how to do this is available from the CDC https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/building-water-system.html.”
According to Mass.gov, Legionnaire’s disease was named for the 1976 American Legion convention in Philadelphia where a large outbreak occurred and the bacteria was identified. Many attendees to the convention died a short time after the convention from complications arising from a severe inflammatory lung condition.
Legionnaires is a pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria. The bacteria is spread in water mist and the bacteria are found normally in many places in the environment. Outbreaks have been connected to contaminated air-conditioning cooling towers, but NOT window air conditioners.
The bacteria also have been found in hot and cold-water taps, showers, whirlpool baths, creeks, ponds and wet soil. Recent outbreaks of note include Flint, Michigan.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health is encouraging all businesses and buildings that have been fully or partially shut down during the pandemic to flush their plumbing thoroughly. The bacteria is carried in the mist so transmission is typically via shower or faucet, and is not spread person to person. Symptoms are similar to the flu and other pneumonia-related illnesses. Populations with underlying health conditions are at increased vulnerability.
The state is informing businesses, schools and houses of worship that this health hazard is a potential concern lurking in their water systems. For mold, water sitting in the pipes for weeks or months, as during the shutdown, can create hazardous health situations.
Routine HVAC maintenance should also be conducted for those systems that were not running during the shutdown, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Businesses that may have been closed or operating at reduced capacity include hotels, pools, spas, houses of worship, schools, gyms, museums and myriad other businesses large and small.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have issued guidance about maintaining and/or restoring water quality during the coronavirus shut down.
In Tewksbury, despite public buildings being closed to the general population, routine maintenance has continued.
said, “In terms of water treatment and distribution, we are always monitoring water quality and chlorine residual in our distribution system. Our operators are always making sure water is moving throughout the system, in and out of tanks etc. in order to prevent stagnation. The chlorine residual is what protects the water from microbial growth when it has been treated and sent out to the mains and tanks.”
Brinch went on to say, “We are entering a time of year where people are using more water; for pools, lawn irrigation, yard work, etc. and this actually helps keep the water in the system fresh as it is constantly being flushed. We have different testing sites, both commercial and residential, throughout town in different areas that we sample regularly in order to make sure the water is safe.”
With regard to private buildings, Brinch said, “it is very important that folks are flushing their systems if they have been idle for a while during the shutdowns, particularly if they are using that water for drinking of any kind of food preparation.”
The town is communicating to businesses and residents through social media and local press.
Brinch also wanted to recognize the hard work of the water treatment employees in Tewksbury.
“Our treatment employees have been fantastic through this, they have not missed a single sample and we never fell out of compliance. And it hasn’t been easy with places shut down, closed, and businesses and residents iffy about letting people in to their buildings. I really have to give our plant employees a lot of credit,” said Brinch.
For more information, visit https://www.mass.gov/service-details/legionellosis-legionnaires-disease