Inside Cover C — April 23 - May 20, 2021 — Spring Preview — M id A tlantic Real Estate Journal
E nvironmental By Stephen Geraci, PE, ECS
Water quality in buildings with reduced occupancy
he US Environmen- tal Protection Agen- cy (EPA) has recom-
water systems. The toolkit references the principles of water management found in American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and air Condi- tioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard 188-2018, Legionel- losis: Risk Management for Building Water Systems. Some buildings are at higher risk than others – such as buildings with cooling towers or locker room showers. These buildings should have a comprehensive water management plan that includes routine tracking of water quality parameters. Water management plans are required in some localities, and building owners and operators everywhere may face increased liability if they are not in com- pliance with ASHRAE Stan- dard 188 and CDC guidance. If you don’t know, youmay be at risk. Initially, the only way to know the water quality is testing by an experienced pro- fessional. ECS has experienced and certified professionals to test drinking water systems How Is The Water In Your Building?
and mechanical water systems. After an initial survey, ECS can identify the needs for your specific building based on EPA, ASHRAE, and CDC guidance. Periodic verification of the wa - ter quality is an essential ele- ment of water management. If you need a water management plan for your building, we can help you with that too. Stephen Gerac i , PE, CHMM serves as the VP, Principal Environmental Engineer, and Regional Manager for environmental services with ECS. MAREJ His expertise includes as- sessment of properties for environmental contaminants including soil, groundwater, soil vapor and hazardous or otherwise regulated building materials. Mr. Geraci received his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering Technology from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA, and he is a li- censed Professional Engineer in Maryland and Virginia. Additionally, he is certified by the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management as a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM).
mended that b u i l d i n g owners and m a n a g e r s take action to address water qual- ity in build- i n g s t h a t have experi-
enced reduced occupancy dur- ing the COVID-19 pandemic. The reason for this recommen- dation is that reduced water usage can result in stagnant water inside building plumb- ing. This may result in water quality issues such as discol- oration, odor, taste, elevated lead and copper, or unhealthy growth of bacteria. Bacteria In Water Bacter ia i s present in all natural water systems, whether from surface water like reservoirs or groundwa- ter aquifers and wells. Most of these naturally occurring bacteria are harmless (and some are even beneficial!) in low concentrations. Bacteria can also be introduced into water systems by contamina- tion from animals, humans, or agricultural runoff. Public water utilities treat the water with filtration and disinfec - tants that help to control – not eliminate – bacteria. Over time, the disinfectant (usually chlorine or chlorine compounds) breaks down, allowing the naturally pres- ent bacteria to reproduce. Some of these bacteria, such as coliforms like Escherichia coli (E. coli) can cause in- testinal illness in humans when consumed. Others, like Legionella species, can cause pneumonia when droplets of water are inhaled, such as from showers, fountains, and cooling towers. Public water systems are required by regulation to routinely test the water qual- ity in their water systems and conduct maintenance and flushing of the distribu - tion network. Although some exceptions exist, most public water systems are effective in providing acceptable water quality to the building. Public Understanding Water Systems
Biofilm grown on a stainless steel surface examined by epifluorescence microscopy (scale bar = 20 microns) © Rodney M. Donlan, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
water systems are required to perform analytical quality tests and make the results available to the public; however, the public utility’s responsibility for water quality ends at the water meter. The utility can- not control what happens to water inside building plumbing systems. In general, building plumb- ing systems are designed for the anticipated water use in the building. The pipe diameter and storage systems are engineered to limit the amount of time water remains in the building during normal use. Reduced occupancy or other disruption in water use patterns can result in stagnant water. When water is allowed to sit for too long in the water pipes, it affects the water chemistry. One of the effects is increased acidity, which can result in elevated lead and copper concentrations. Another effect is reduction in disinfectant levels, which can result in bacteria growth over time. Some bacteria form a pro- tective structure on the walls of water pipes known as biofilm, which makes them resistant to disinfection and particularly difficult to remove. Extended contact time with water pipes may result in de- graded water quality, such as odors or discoloration, or water chemistry such as increased acidity resulting in elevated lead and copper concentrations or bacteria growth over time to unhealthy concentrations. Some bacteria form a protec- tive structure on the walls of water pipes known as biofilm, which makes them resistant to disinfection and particularly difficult to remove.
Managing Water Quality According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preven- tion (CDC), building operators should be aware that reduc- tions in normal water use can create hazards for returning occupants. CDC has devel- oped a toolkit to help building operators develop a Water Management Program (WMP) to reduce the risk posed by
Cooling towers present a significant risk of spreading Legionella bacteria and are often covered by contracted maintenance and water treatment. Hot and cold potable water systems also present risks and are often over - looked in water management programs. Many buildings have taken their drinking fountains out of service during the pandemic. While the guidance to do this was well-intentioned, bringing these fixtures back into service will present a new set of problems after allowing the water in these fixtures and associated plumbing pipes to become stagnant. If precautions are not taken, building occupants could po- tentially be exposed to a variety of water quality problems when these fixtures are re-activated. Simply flushing these fixtures may not detect or adequately address potential problems like corrosion and biofilm. Water quality testing can help to reassure building occupants that the fixtures have been adequately recommissioned.
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