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Water Quality Services and Water Safety in Buildings During and After COVID-19

We are committed to providing services and support to help safeguard our water supply and facilities during this global pandemic.

Helping Keep Your Building Water Healthy During Low-Volume Use

When facilities are forced to close or reduce occupancy, there is often an unprecedented decline in water use in commercial, education, hospitality and manufacturing facilities. This low or no-use scenario can lead to amplification of waterborne pathogens in water systems.

Since each building and water system is unique, it is critical to follow a site-specific procedure, so your water management strategies prevent public health hazards. If you have a water management plan, it should be updated to reflect risk management strategies during COVID-19 operating conditions. If a water management plan is not in place, one should be created.

Our building water health experts at NSF Health Sciences are available to support your efforts to keep your building safe. We can develop water management program and relieving water related tasks for overburdened facility staff.

Supporting Water Product Safety During the COVID-19 Crisis

Separate from our building water health services, NSF provides an extensive range of services for the water industry to help ensure the quality and safety of products in the marketplace. During this time of national and global crisis, we are committed to maintaining our services to work with you in protecting public safety. Our staff continues to provide comprehensive services, quality support and superior knowledge to help you through these challenging times.

  • Our account managers and technical reviewers are available to help you with your current or new projects. If you’re a client, you can contact them directly if you have questions or go to your account on NSF Connect for project status. For new services, please contact us through the link on the left for more information.
  • Our laboratories worldwide continue to operate and provide a variety of services from certification to testing only.
  • We continue to provide audit services where allowed, and where travel restrictions exist, we can perform desk audits in most cases.

News and Events

Special Session of Legionella Conference to Address Emergent Health Crisis
December 10, 2020
NSF Health Sciences and the National Environmental Health Association to co-host virtual conference March 9-10, 2021
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Business Continuity During COVID-19 Requires Management of Building Water Systems Before Reopening
May 6, 2020
Controlling the spread of COVID-19 requires the collective effort of physical distancing. While this is imperative to save lives from the novel disease, many hotels, resorts, offices and other buildings are now partially or entirely shutdown. As a result, the water systems in these buildings are experiencing low to no flow, loss of disinfectant residual, tepid water temperatures and other hazardous conditions that can increase Legionella amplification, which can cause Legionnaires disease. To avoid a dramatic increase in Legionnaires disease, there are several actions that building owners should take now and prior to returning buildings to full service to reduce hazardous conditions caused by the COVID-19 low building occupancy rates. Water Management Programs Need to be Updated to Reflect COVID-19 Operating Conditions Now is the time to update your water management program, or create one, to reflect the impact of COVID-19 on your building. The plan should describe all water systems, the flow of water through those systems, how risks are managed, and, critically, who is taking responsibility for the actions called for in the water management program. The CDC recently issued COVID-19 guidance for building water systems, and step one is to update and/or develop your water management plan. The health and safety of your employees, tenants and customers cannot be properly protected without a water management plan and program. Stagnant Water Amplifies Risks – Keep the Water Moving When buildings have low occupancy, the water age in these systems increases. Several hazards are associated with stagnant water and reduced flow rates within plumbing systems and equipment, such as biofilm growth, microbiological amplification (including Legionella bacteria), corrosion and lead accumulation. Keeping the water flowing is the best practice to minimize risks caused by low or no occupancy. Developing a successful flushing program requires careful planning, and those implementing the plan should follow site-specific procedures for the parts of the building that have low or no consumption. The building owner will need to determine the volume of water that needs to be turned over for specific sections of the building, the locations where the flushing will occur and the time needed to flush specific taps. An efficient flushing regimen will provide fresh water with an adequate disinfectant residual circulating in the water systems and will reduce the opportunities for biofilm grow within the plumbing system. Disinfectant Residual – Control Biological Growth Generally, incoming water from your utility contains a disinfectant residual that limits biological growth in distribution piping and your building. In buildings with low water utilization and stagnation as a result of COVID-19, the disinfectant residual will be lost and one of the critical barriers to bacteria amplifying removed. One of the goals of the flushing program is to bring fresh disinfectant residual into the building. As a first step, a building needs to measure the incoming disinfectant residual provided by its water utility. If the residual from the water service connection is low, the building should contact its water utility so it can take proper corrective actions. The building’s water management plan needs to be updated to identify the points and frequency that disinfectant residuals will be measured during COVID-19 operations. If the residual at distal points are too low, this may indicate high water age, high organic contamination, and/or heat gain in some parts of the system. If you cannot maintain a disinfectant residual, then corrective actions are needed. Hot Water Systems – Avoid Accelerating the Growth of Legionella -- 77°F-108°F Low or no demand for hot water systems can create hazards from both stagnation and temperature ranges that accelerate the growth of Legionella. Legionella proliferates within 77°F-108°F. It is critical that building owners include in their water management plans steps to control temperatures in hot water storage units and hot water piping systems to prevent Legionella amplification. Temperatures need to be collected at strategic locations to evaluate if criteria established in the water management plan and by the local jurisdiction are within proper range. System Shutdowns Some water systems, such as cooling towers, decorative features, and pools, can be shut down temporarily while others must remain in operation. Those systems that are shut for an extended period should follow the shut-down and start-up procedures in the building’s water management plan. Systems that may be shut down intermittently, such as cooling towers used for comfort or process cooling, need to be carefully managed to ensure continued application of biocides and that water continues to be recirculated through the system so every drop sees every biocide feed. If a cooling tower system is not actively managing Legionella growth for five days, the system should be fully cleaned and disinfected. NSF’s protocol (NSF P453) for managing Legionella risks from cooling towers provides detailed guidance and is available on request. Drinking and Emergency Water Storage If present, drinking water storage tanks require special attention and should not be shut down. In a low demand situation, water will age in the tanks which can result in biofilm formation, sediment deposits, and corrosion, depending on the materials in the tank. The goal should be to turn over the water in the tank at least every 72 hours (your tank’s operational capacity should be three times the current daily consumption). If possible, keep tanks at the lowest operational level, enough to renew water every 24 to 72 hours. All emergency water systems should be kept in operation as usual (e.g. fire suppression). Even if risks seem to be lower because of low occupancy, all emergency systems must be ready in case of need. Recirculation pumps for hot or cold domestic water systems should be used in order to prevent stagnation. Verification and Validation – Documenting Standard of Care – Ready to Return to Normal Operations Emphasis should be placed on maintaining accurate and defensible records to verify the water management program has been implemented as designed. Records should be kept updated as they are your best ally when your building comes back to normal operation. Record any measures taken to keep water safe as you would during normal operation. Documentation should include the control measure or activity, its results, who was responsible and the date it was performed. Testing your water system is even more important during this change in operation and water demand. Continue water quality and Legionella testing as planned. Besides protecting yourself from potential litigation, it is beneficial to check if control measures during this time are effective at preventing Legionella growth. Other measures specific for your building and water systems may be necessary, so evaluate your situation and update your water management program if needed. Control measures should be in practice to effectively minimize risks from waterborne diseases to protect public health and to keep water safe during temporary periods of low water demand in buildings. Chris Boyd is General Manager of Building Water Health at NSF Health Sciences, LLC, a company of NSF, a global public health organization based in Ann Arbor, Mich.This guest column by Chris Boyd, General Manager of Building Water Health, was written for Water Online and originally published April 21, 2020. It is reprinted in full here with permission of Water Online.
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How NSF Is Addressing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
April 1, 2020
These are uncertain and anxious times, so we want to assure you that NSF is taking proactive steps to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Our first priority is protecting the health and safety of our colleagues, clients and committee members while still providing valuable public health services to protect the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe and the products we use. In February 2020, we established an internal task force that meets daily to monitor the global situation and to discuss and implement appropriate actions at NSF, including travel restrictions and self-isolation protocols. Based on the latest guidance from the U.S. CDC, we are prohibiting all non-essential, work-related travel worldwide. This includes both international and domestic travel. Due to the widespread ongoing transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19, risk factors and travel restrictions are no longer focused on specific countries. We are requiring all NSF auditors, consultants and other client-visiting staff to adhere to strict preventive measures that go above and beyond what is recommended by the U.S. CDC and the World Health Organization. This is our commitment to you and your colleagues: We will stay home if we are sick. We will purchase a thermometer and check our temperature every morning to be sure we do not have a fever – a measured temperature of 99.5° F (37.5° C) or greater. We will bring a mask and wear it upon client request. We will wash our hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer before or upon entering any client site. We will always sanitize our mobile phones and/or tablets before use during an audit. We will self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms daily. We will self-isolate immediately if we come in contact with anyone known to have a confirmed or presumptive case of COVID-19. Before entering a client site, we will ask the following 3 questions: Do you have anyone on the premises who tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 14 days? Are there any public health travel restrictions – or impending restrictions – in your country or region that would prohibit me from traveling to your location? Do you have any specific health and safety control measures that I need to be aware of prior to my visit? As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, we want you to know that we are available to provide valuable services so you can continue to operate your business and protect your customers. NSF can provide scheduled desk audits as an alternative to our normal on-site facility audits. In some cases, we can even use wearable technology to conduct remote audits. Please talk to your account manager about solutions that might work for you. We will continue to monitor the latest guidance from the World Health Organization and other public health authorities around the world. In the meantime, please take care of yourself, your co-workers and your family. Contact us if you have questions.
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