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Water quality in buildings with reduced occupancy


The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recommended that building owners and managers take action to address water quality in buildings that have experienced reduced occupancy during the COVID-19 pandemic. The reason for this recommendation is that reduced water usage can result in stagnant water inside building plumbing. This may result in water quality issues such as discoloration, odor, taste, elevated lead and copper, or unhealthy growth of bacteria.

Bacteria In Water

Bacteria is present in all natural water systems, whether from surface water like reservoirs or groundwater 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 contamination from animals, humans, or agricultural runoff. Public water utilities treat the water with filtration and disinfectants that help to control – not eliminate – bacteria. Over time, the disinfectant (usually chlorine or chlorine compounds) breaks down, allowing the naturally present bacteria to reproduce. Some of these bacteria, such as coliforms like Escherichia coli (E. coli) can cause intestinal 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.


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