The ODH, EPA and Purdue University – Part 2

The ODH, EPA and Purdue University - Clean School Water Systems

In the months after the nation came to a standstill amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Solid Blend collaborated with government agencies and one of the country’s leading universities to provide testing and remediation for Legionella in several Ohio school districts.

In the final installment of this two-part blog, we talk with our own Doug Dolder, Case Manager, and recent graduate of the ASSE 12080 Training Program and certified Legionella Water Safety and Management Specialist, about Solid Blend’s recent work in a nearby school district. The Solid Blend team worked in partnership with Purdue University, West Milton School District, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), Miami County Public Health, and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) to ensure safe, potable water for one local school building.

The first installment explored the increased risk for Legionella during COVID-19 shutdowns, and how one school district decided to test for Legionella. Part II explores how we worked with our agency partners to clean the school water systems, what risks other buildings in our communities may face and the steps we can all take to protect our water.

Did anyone (schools, agencies) expect to find Legionella?

There was quite a bit of news coverage of four other regional school districts where Legionella was found. West Milton wanted to be proactive in protecting their students, teachers, and staff. While there was no clear indication that Legionella was in the water system, there hardly ever is, unless someone gets sick.

The only sure way to tell if Legionella is present in a water system is to run a sample and test for it.

How long did it take for the school’s water systems to be cleaned?

Disinfection of the water system took roughly eight to ten hours – including our water specialists administering disinfectant to the hot and cold water systems, holding it for three hours, and then flushing it through every distal outlet (ice machine, showers, faucets, fountains, hose outlets, etc.). We came back 72 hours later to re-sample, ensuring that the bacteria was no longer present in the water system. Those post-work samples usually come back in ten to 14 days.

When will these schools need to be tested again?

Purdue will continue to take samples for their study to gather data related to water aging and the COVID-19 shutdown. Typically, we would recommend that a facility works with our water safety and management specialists to develop a customized water safety and management plan that we leave with the facility. It is a plan that includes weekly, monthly, and quarterly tasks that they can do to manage their potable water and mitigate the risks of Legionella bacteria growing in their water systems. Beyond that, we also recommend quarterly reviews with a Solid Blend case manager. The case manager reviews the assessment report and water management plan and makes recommendations based on the data documented for lessening the chance of Legionella growth in the future. For facilities that require it, these water safety and management plans also help them keep required documentation up to date so that they are in compliance with local, state and federal agencies.

What was it like collaborating with the other agencies? What kinds of things did you learn?

It was great! This type of collaboration between academia, the government and the private sector rarely happens in our line of work. We were all working with the same goal of making sure potable water was safe for teachers, students and others. We’ve enjoyed a long relationship with ODH and the Ohio EPA, and it was a real pleasure to work with Dr. Weldon and his team, who are in the midst of a truly interesting study on the effects of the COVID shutdown on water aging and stagnation.

Most of us would just assume water everywhere in the United States is safe. What do we need to know about water safety, especially during coronavirus? Are some buildings we would visit more at risk than others?

Great question, because you’re right, most people would assume that. That is why we are so passionate about community education. If there are buildings that you are in regularly, it doesn’t hurt to inquire with the building or facility managers. Ask them what they’ve done to test for or remediate Legionella, and inquire about the water safety and management plan in place to protect their potable water.

There aren’t specific buildings that are at risk more than others, simply because there are so many factors that go into keeping potable water safe – things like the age of the building, how long water has been stagnant, the design of the system, etc.

The best way to find out if there is Legionella — or other waterborne pathogens — in the water system is to have a specialist from Solid Blend come out to perform testing and provide education around water safety management.

What can schools do to protect their water from Legionella?

Schools and other buildings can educate facility managers about potable water safety, reviewing the information available from the CDC, ODH, and Ohio EPA. There is a collaborative document that was published by OEPA and ODH, specifically about buildings reopening after COVID and protecting potable water.

The best way to ensure that your water is protected from Legionella and other waterborne pathogens is to consult Solid Blend and our team of water safety management specialists. We work with all kinds of buildings, from healthcare to assisted living centers to schools, to build custom-tailored water management plans specifically for their facility.

If an individual is concerned a building they might visit could be at risk of Legionella, is there anything they can do?

Inquire to see what those in positions of protecting a building’s water are doing to protect the facility’s water. Too often, people will assume that flushing the water after a period of stagnation will rid the system of harmful bacteria – and that isn’t always true. The only sure way to know if a building’s water has been compromised is to test because just heating the water to high temperatures or flushing the system will not get rid of biofilm that could be housing waterborne pathogens.

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Timothy Binnig