COVID-19 Guidance for Wastewater Workers

COVID-19 Guidance for Wastewater Workers

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As the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) begins to spread worldwide, industry groups have begun releasing information and advice for water and wastewater professionals.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently released guidance for wastewater workers, reporting that coronaviruses are vulnerable to the same disinfection techniques used currently in the health care sector. “Current disinfection conditions in wastewater treatment facilities is expected to be sufficient,” OSHA released in a statement. “This includes conditions for practices such as oxidation with hypochlorite (i.e., chlorine bleach) and peracetic acid, as well as inactivation through the use of ultraviolet irradiation.”

OSHA goes on to say that, currently, there isn’t evidence to suggest wastewater treatment plant operators and sewer workers need to enact additional protections specific to COVID-19, but added that “wastewater treatment plant operations should ensure workers follow routine practices to prevent exposure to wastewater, including using the engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE normally required for work tasks when handling untreated wastewater.”

Meanwhile, the Water Environment Federation (WEF) has released the Water Professional’s Guide to COVID-19, and says that while OSHA’s recommendations are useful in a general way, more research may be necessary for some disinfectants. “More research may be warranted for disinfectants such as peracetic acid and combined chlorine (chloramines), where coronavirus specific data is lacking or evidence suggests higher bacterial susceptibility to disinfection compared to viruses. Although coronaviruses have not been tested, peracetic acid has been found to have some efficacy against some non-enveloped viruses (e.g., norovirus) that are known to be more resistant than enveloped viruses.”

In the absence of proper disinfection, previous research into the persistence of coronavirus surrogates and SARS in wastewater show that the viruses can survive in wastewater for hours or even days, according to WEF.

It’s important that workers in the water and wastewater sector stay up-to-date with industry specific information with regards to COVID-19, and this post will be updated as more of that information becomes available. In the meantime, take a look at the releases from OSHA and WEF, and distribute this graphic created by WEF on Implementing the Hierarchy of Controls for Wastewater Worker Protection.


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