| Coronavirus and water
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Coronavirus and water

With growing international concern about Coronavirus (COVID-19), water utilities may have questions about potential impacts to their operations and how to respond to customer inquiries about water safety.

As of today, the COVID-19 outbreak has not been classified as a pandemic by U.S. or Canadian health authorities. However, AWWA advises utilities – as always – to be prepared in the event of a pandemic. Resources to assist you are included in this advisory.

In the event of a severe pandemic, absenteeism would increase from illness, the fear of infection, and the need to care for ill family members. This absenteeism could affect drinking water and wastewater system operators and their capability to operate and maintain their systems adequately, thereby increasing the risks to public health. Absenteeism would also affect workers from other essential and interdependent sectors such as the transportation, power and chemical sectors. It can have an adverse impact on services such as delivery of chemicals and other essential materials and supplies.

AWWA has the following resources to help water utilities to be prepared:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Public Health Agency of Canada have helpful information posted on COVID-19. CDC characterizes transmission risks this way:

“The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
  • Via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
  • These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.”

Water and wastewater professionals may also have questions about the potential for exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. In a FAQ page for health care professionals, CDC includes the following: 

“Q: What do waste management companies need to know about wastewater and sewage coming from a healthcare facility or community setting with either a known COVID-19 patient or person under investigation (PUI)?

A: Waste generated in the care of PUIs or patients with confirmed COVID-19 does not present additional considerations for wastewater disinfection in the United States. Coronaviruses are susceptible to the same disinfection conditions in community and healthcare settings as other viruses, so current disinfection conditions in wastewater treatment facilities are expected to be sufficient. This includes conditions for practices such as oxidation with hypochlorite (i.e., chlorine bleach) and peracetic acid, as well as inactivation using UV irradiation.

Q: Do wastewater and sewage workers need any additional protection when handling untreated waste from healthcare or community setting with either a known COVID-19 patient or PUI?

A: Wastewater workers should use standard practices including basic hygiene precautions and wear the recommended PPE as prescribed for their current work tasks when handling untreated waste. There is no evidence to suggest that employees of wastewater plants need any additional protections in relation to COVID-19.”

Stantec has published a whitepaper on coronaviruses with considerations and recommendations to water and wastewater professionals. The Water Environment Federation also published The Water Professional’s Guide to COVID-19, and the recording from its Feb. 25 “Updates on Novel Coronavirus for Water Professionals” webcast.

Additional information on COVID-19 is available from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) page.

Questions may be directed to Kevin Morley, AWWA’s federal relations manager.