The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) has a new web presence. You may now find information on TAP at https://go.illinois.edu/techassist.
TAP makes companies and communities more competitive and resilient with sustainable business practices, technologies, and solutions. TAP works at the intersection of industry, science, and government to help organizations achieve profitable, sustainable results.
The new website makes it easier to find information on TAP programs, services, and projects. Visitors can sign up for free site visits or learn about fee-for-service opportunities to engage our sustainability experts. Any Illinois organization, business, manufacturing facility, institute of higher learning, government entity, public utility, or institution may request one free site visit (per location) at no cost to the facility.
Editor’s note: Many businesses are closed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and some building managers have shut off water and air conditioning to conserve resources. Unfortunately, warmth and lack of clean water flow can contribute to the growth of potentially dangerous microbes, including the bacteria that contribute to Legionnaires’ disease. Illinois Sustainable Technology Center chemist and industrial water treatment specialist Jeremy Overmann spoke with News Bureau life sciences editor Diana Yates about the problem and potential solutions.
What are the potential sources of tainted water in an unoccupied building?
When a building is unoccupied, water stagnates in the building’s plumbing systems and the disinfectant (chlorination) dissipates. Bacteria can then multiply and form biofilms on the internal surfaces. Without regular use of water, the temperature in these systems may rise or fall into the range in which Legionella bacteria can grow. As a result, the hot and cold tap water systems – including storage tanks, ice machines, drinking fountains and water softeners – can become unsafe. Other potential sources of Legionella include sprinkler systems, decorative fountains, hot tubs, eyewash stations, safety showers, humidifiers and idle cooling towers.
How might these sources expose or infect returning workers?
If water containing Legionella is released from any of these systems in a manner that produces aerosol, mist or droplets, these can be inhaled and cause a serious, sometimes fatal pneumonia. Another route of exposure, though less likely, is aspirating contaminated water into the lungs while drinking. The symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are the same as some of those from COVID-19 and could result in a misdiagnosis. Legionella does not cause harm when ingested, however other pathogenic bacteria might be present, which can cause infection by this route and even by skin contact.
What can building managers do now to minimize or eliminate the threat?
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers has written a standard that establishes minimum legionellosis risk management requirements for buildings with complex water systems. Standard 188-2018 directs building managers to assemble a water management team and write a water management program for the facility. If the facility has a WMP, managers should review it and meet remotely with the water management team.
The WMP should include protocols for maintaining safe water systems in unoccupied buildings. If none exist, the team might be able to develop them. Generally, hot and cold plumbing systems – including water softeners, equipment, storage tanks and all fixtures – need to be thoroughly flushed a minimum of once per week to remove stagnant water and replace it with water containing an adequate level of chlorination.
A water softener may be regenerated as an alternative to flushing. Drinking fountains should either be flushed regularly or shut off completely from the water supply. If they are shut off, the fountains must be cleaned according to the manufacturer’s instructions before being used again for drinking.
Ice machines should be disconnected from the water supply and stored according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Decorative fountains and hot tubs should be turned off, drained and stored dry. The same goes for humidifiers and cooling towers, if they are not needed. If still needed for cooling, the tower water circulating pump should be kept on continuously, water should be continually bled from the tower, and adequate biocides should be applied regularly to maintain control of biological growth.
What should water system operators do if they have already left their facilities idle for weeks?
Operators should consult the facility’s water management program, as it should contain protocols for start-up of water systems after shut-down or a period of nonuse. The water systems will likely need to be flushed, cleaned, disinfected and recommissioned. After being remediated, they should be tested to verify the safety of the water and the presence of adequate disinfectant.
Who can facility managers call on for advice, inspection or treatment of their tainted systems?
I recommend hiring a reputable water management consultant with experience remediating these types of systems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a guidance document containing relevant information for building water systems that is available on its website.
The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) at the University of Illinois makes companies and communities more competitive and resilient with sustainable business practices, technologies, and solutions. TAP works at the intersection of industry, science and government to help clients achieve profitable, sustainable results.
In service to the State of Illinois, ISTC provides all Illinois organizations, businesses, manufacturing facilities, institutions and governments the opportunity for one free site visit and sustainability assessment from TAP. However, in light of the Governor’s stay-at-home order and restrictions on non-essential travel for University personnel as we face the COVID-19 pandemic, TAP staff members are currently not conducting in-person site visits.
But this does not mean that we are not still here to serve you. Our staff members are working remotely, and are available to help your business or community with:
Answers to questions related to waste reduction, water and energy efficiency and conservation
You can also keep up to date on TAP projects and services, case studies, and guidance by subscribing to the ISTC blog (look for the “subscribe” box for email input on the main blog page) or exploring the blog’s Technical Assistance category. Our web site also provides a list of fact sheets, case studies and other publications which may provide inspiration for your efforts. In the coming months, TAP will also be developing a new web site to more fully describe recent projects, successes, and services; this will be linked to directly from the main ISTC web site. Be on the lookout for it!
ISTC’s Institutional Water Treatment (IWT) program has developed a set of recommendations for facility managers to help them maintain their water systems in light of new federal, state, and local COVID-19 policies that change building use patterns.
If you have questions or need assistance, contact:
Jeremy Overmann: firstname.lastname@example.org or (217) 333-5903
Angie DiAscro: DiAscro2@illinois.edu or (217) 300-3882
Cameron Dillion: email@example.com or (217) 244-0179
Jenn Tapuaiga: firstname.lastname@example.org or (217) 300-0084
Mike Springman: email@example.com or (618) 468-2780
With the start of a new year, ISTC’s Institutional Water Treatment (IWT) program is offering a new service to test water sources for Legionella, the bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease, to decrease exposure for clients with weak immune systems.
Legionnaires’ disease is caused by inhaling water mist containing Legionella. The bacterium can grow in showerheads and sink faucets, cooling towers, and large plumbing systems. Legionella is inhaled, most commonly when showering, according to Mike Springman, manager of the IWT program.
“As long as the temperature of the stored water is hot enough, at 140 degrees, and is hot enough when used, at 120 degrees, and the chlorine is adequate, there shouldn’t be a problem,” Springman said. “Older systems and systems that are not well maintained are more at risk.”
Vulnerable populations, including older adults and others with compromised immune systems, are more susceptible to exposure. Legionnaires’ is a serious type of pneumonia, and symptoms include fever, cough, chills, and muscle aches.
The IWT services group gives advice on controlling corrosion, mineral scale formation, and biological growth for facilities with institutional water systems. Most of their clients are state-operated facilities, such as Human Services, Department of Corrections, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and others that often have older facilities that need to be checked periodically and maintained.
Using IDEXX laboratory test kits, IWT field chemists place bottled water samples in sealed trays, minimizing their own exposure to the bacterium. New laboratory testing facilities at the University of Illinois have been equipped specifically to handle water samples to be tested for Legionella.
Previously, Springman received requests from large facilities a few times a year to test for this particular bacterium. Until now, the testing was not cost-effective because it required sending samples to an outside lab.
“I think that Legionnaires’ disease is becoming more prevalent, or at least people are becoming more aware of what it is as time goes on,” Springman said. “The feedback to our announcement of this new service has been positive, and I think it’s going to work well. It’s going to serve our clients, which is what we’re here to do.”
Plastic pollution has become recognized as a major environmental challenge, particularly in oceans. Recent evidence also shows that plastics are also present in freshwater ecosystems, including the Great Lakes. This not only affects human health and aquatic ecosystems, but also provides another pathway for plastics to enter marine environments.
A global initiative called the 100 Plastic Rivers Project investigates how plastics are transported and transformed in rivers and how they accumulate in river and estuary sediments, where they can leave a long-lasting pollution legacy. Researchers at the University of Birmingham lead the project.
Scientists at ISTC and at the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) are participating in the 100 Plastic Rivers Project as part of a larger collaboration with the University of Birmingham. One goal of the project is to collect water samples to test for microplastics from 100 different rivers from around the world. ISTC and ISWS researchers have collected water from two rivers in Central Illinois and are recruiting other U.S. researchers to join the project.
Researchers who are interested in collecting samples for the project can contact Dr. Holly Nel at the University of Birmingham.
ECEC19 will be held on May 21-22, 2019, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign, IL. This year the conference will expand beyond the aquatic environment to also include air and soil studies along with effects on human and animal health.
The conference will feature presentations and posters on the latest in emerging contaminant research, policies, and outreach. In addition, there will be plenty of opportunities for discussion and networking with those interested in all aspects of emerging contaminants in the environment.
Researchers, educators, businesses, government officials, regulatory agencies, policy makers, outreach and extension professionals, environmental groups, members of the general public, and medical, veterinary, and public health professionals are encouraged to attend the conference.
The Great Lakes are an important water and food source for both humans and animals. Anthropogenic contaminants such as microplastics, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are of increasing concern because of their potential impact on the environment and human health. Scientists lack understanding about many aspects of how these recently identified contaminants interact with the environment, aquatic species, and other potential contaminants.
With new funding from Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) researcher John Scott and his team will be able to expand their research to include more environmental contaminants. With their current project on persistent organic pollutants in Lake Muskegon, they are studying the effects of microplastic type and deployment time in the sediments and the water column on sorption of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) to the microplastic particles. This on going investigation includes legacy contaminants like chlorinated pesticides, polybrominated biphenyl ethers (PBDEs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The new funds will also allow the team to look at adsorption of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) on the microplastics. PFASs are being found to be ubiquitous in the environment. This study will look at the role microplastics may play as a carrier of these compounds disperse them in water and sediment.
The Illinois governor recently signed House Bill IL-HB5741 that amends the University of Illinois Scientific Surveys Act. The new section 21 asks the Prairie Research Institute (PRI), which was established under the Scientific Surveys Act in 2008, to conduct a scientific literature review of chemicals identified in wastewater treatment plant effluents that are recognized as contaminants of emerging concern. It also requests that PRI compile a listing of the specific actions recommended by various state and federal agencies to address the environmental or public health concerns associated with the chemicals. PRI will provide its impartial report to the General Assembly by June 30, 2020.
Although the law requests a literature review of contaminants of emerging concern associated with wastewater treatment plant effluent, these contaminants also enter the environment from other sources. These include non-point sources, such as agricultural fields, and other point sources, such as large animal feeding operations, septic systems, and industrial operations.
In this story from CityLab, Leslie Nemo chronicles how eighty coconut-fiber “islands” in the Chicago River’s manmade North Branch canal hosts wildlife and filters pollutants from the water. ISTC’s Wei Zheng provides scientific expertise about how the plants help remove contaminants from the river.