As the El Paso community slowly begins to reopen and reoccupy buildings after the shutdown due to th eCOVID-19 pandemic, El Paso Water is urging property and business owners to be mindful of potential health risks posed by stagnant water in pipes and take steps to prevent contamination.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prolonged closures can degrade water quality within buildings and introduce harmful pathogens like Legionella bacteria and chemical contaminants, in addition to foul odors and taste.
On-site water contamination can also occur due to decreased hot water usage and the absence of chlorine disinfection that makes water safe to drink. This can lead to the buildup of bacteria on the inside of pipes, nozzles, joints, and other elements of plumbing and faucet fixtures.
“This is a very real issue that is affecting many buildings, not only in El Paso, but across the country right now,” said Paul Rivas, Chief Operations Officer for Production and Treatment. “We worked to stay ahead of the curve and developed guidelines for customers before we knew there would be a months-long shutdown.”
EPWater says they run hundreds of daily tests to ensure the drinking water delivered to customers goes above and beyond federal and state quality standards. But prolonged closures and stagnant water can lead to the following health risks if not properly managed.
- Mold: While El Paso’s climate is dry, the environment inside an inactive building can be humid due to leaks, condensation from roofs or reduced AC systems use.
- Legionella: Stagnant water in pipes can provide an environment for this bacteria to grow. Then it has to spread through small water droplets that people can breathe in, which can cause potentially deadly pneumonia in humans, commonly known as Legionnaires’ disease.
- Lead and Copper: Changes to water chemistry in stagnant water may result in corrosion of indoor plumbing components that could cause the release of metals.
Proactive steps for a safe reopening
EPWater urges business owners and property managers to proactively prepare their plumbing systems and consider the following before reopening:
- Ventilate the building
- Remove/bypass Point-Of-Entry (POE) and Point-Of-Use (POU) systems
- Flush and refill P-Traps
- Flush cold-water lines (first)
- Flush hot-water lines (second)
- Flush all outlets (hose bibs, faucets, showerheads, toilets, p-traps, etc.)
- Replace and service POE and POU Systems (after flushing)
- Contact a plumber for specific concerns
“The last thing you would want to do is open up a school or an office building without properly flushing the drains and pipes, then have to send everyone back home again because it’s unsafe,” said Rivas. “Preparation is key.”
EPWater is dedicated to helping our customers safely reopen and reoccupy buildings. If you have further questions, call the EPWater water quality line at 915-594-5733 or click here for more information.
The CDC also provides a toolkit that can be accessed here for business owners wanting to get started on their own water management program to reduce risk of Legionella growth.