True, in 2020, this important annual observance isn’t making the waves (pun noted) it has in past years. This is because our main public awareness events – tours at drinking water and wastewater facilities – can’t take place due to COVID-19 restrictions. Last year, 19 facilities throughout the state welcomed students, legislators, and the general public for fun, informative, eye-opening tours.
This year, none are allowed to.
Ironically, though, the pandemic underscores the importance of our water quality infrastructure and the dedicated professionals who keep it running, 24/7/365. How many times have we all been advised to wash our hands in the last four months? Try doing it without clean, running water.
Hospitals, public institutions, and essential businesses are on heightened sanitation protocols – relying on the water that comes so readily from the tap. Vermonters sheltering in place at home rely on water coming to and leaving their sometimes claustrophobic residences for virtually every need.
Water Quality Day is a day to appreciate the systems and people who keep it clean and flowing.
And what about the water that leaves our hospitals, offices, and homes? As it turns out, the SARS-Cov-2 virus can survive in human feces for up to 33 days. A May 6 Science News article, reporting on recent studies, quoted researchers as saying “the potential spread of COVID-19 via sewage ‘must not be neglected’ in the battle to protect human health.” Check out the article here: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200506133603.htm .
In a May 8 article on Fox News, Prof. Aaron Packman, of Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering, put it in even starker terms: “New information on COVID-19 indicates that the virus infects the human GI tract and is excreted into sewage. Our assessments indicate that there is a risk of waterborne transmission of the coronavirus.” Read more of Packman’s comments here: https://www.foxnews.com/science/risk-of-covid-19-transmission-from-waste-water-higher-than-believed-study-claims .
That means Vermont’s 500 + wastewater operators are being pretty courageous every day, when they go to work to deal with the stuff up close and personal. Fortunately, they’re smart, too, and have undertaken special facility sanitation, staff rotation, and personal protection protocols to keep themselves and the public healthy. (Also, to help keep plants operating, GMWEA, VRWA, and the Vt. DEC have reactivated the VTWARN system, allowing facilities to get substitute personnel if one of their staff gets sick or quarantined: www.VTWARN.org.)
Are Vermonters at risk from COVID-19 transmission in wastewater? Not likely – because those “first responders” at your local wastewater plant are making sure you’re not. OSHA reports that coronaviruses are vulnerable to the same disinfection techniques used currently in the health care sector, and “Current disinfection conditions in wastewater treatment facilities is expected to be sufficient.” Prof. Packman, cited above, says that transmission risk in sewage is “likely to be a problem . . . [primarily] in parts of the world that do not have good water infrastructure.”
So, on Water Quality Day 2020, I say we renew, with determination, our commitment to maintaining our good water infrastructure. And let us give an extra big tip of the hat in gratitude to our water quality professionals, who put it on the line for us every day.
If you agree, please take a moment to circulate this post via Facebook or blog, or write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.
To return to GMWEA’s website, CLICK HERE.