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Plumbing Foundation: Stagnant Water Poses Public Health Threat as NYC Buildings Reopen

Last updated: 05-22-2020

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Plumbing Foundation: Stagnant Water Poses Public Health Threat as NYC Buildings Reopen

As New York prepares to reopen tens of millions of square feet of shuttered commercial spaces, building owners and operators have more than just COVID-19 to worry about. The Plumbing Foundation City of New York is urging large commercial landlords and building management companies to take necessary precautions to safeguard tenants and the public from deadly microbes such as Legionella and other biofilm bacteria that may have infected not only stagnant hot water plumbing but entire plumbing systems and possibly HVAC systems during New York State's PAUSE order.

Office buildings, retail spaces, manufacturing facilities, universities and other businesses forced to suddenly shut down to stop the spread of coronavirus are now vulnerable to potential outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease because of a lack of chlorinated water flowing through critical plumbing systems that have been subject to irregular temperature changes, the group cautioned. The longer systems are idle, the more susceptible they are to disease.

"At such a vulnerable time for public health, we cannot afford additional outbreaks that would hinder the progress we've made against coronavirus and further set back the reopening of our economy," said Terence O'Brien, senior director, Plumbing Foundation City of New York.

The Plumbing Foundation is calling for service checks and maintenance of commercial buildings to be conducted by licensed master plumbers who understand complex water and cooling systems that can sometimes stretch for hundreds of miles along the interiors of large buildings.

"It's not like opening up a summer house where you can turn a few valves, flush the toilet and let the faucet run. These systems require the expertise of certified professionals who understand how they work in concert with other critical systems within buildings. Licensed master plumbers are uniquely trained to spot potential problem areas for Legionella and other harmful microbes. Buildings' janitorial and in-house maintenance staff are not equipped compared to the staff of NYC licensed plumbing firms. They can help ensure a building is reopened in the safest possible manner for tenants and public visitors," O'Brien continued.

According to the CDC, Legionnaires' disease is a serious, sometimes deadly form of pneumonia caused by Legionella bacterial infection of the lungs. It is most often contracted from water vapor from cooling systems or from drinking water systems that have stagnated in temperatures ranging from 68 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

A study published in April commissioned by the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) in partnership with several major universities recommends that potable water systems in large buildings should be properly flushed and sanitized with chlorine treated water in order to best guard against Legionella outbreaks. Licensed master plumbers are best equipped to perform these operations and will know when a system has been properly disinfected and whether further specialized microbial testing is required, the Plumbing Foundation says.

Established in 1986, the Plumbing Foundation City of New York Inc. is a nonprofit association of licensed contracting firms, engineering associations, manufacturers and suppliers whose mission is to ensure public health through the enactment and enforcement of safe plumbing codes. 

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