Research provides new guidance on how to decontaminate plumbing systems

A new study published by Purdue University, in conjunction with Metropolitan State University of Denver, provides guidance to health officials and drinking water providers on how to decontaminate plumbing systems.

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN, Aug. 11, 2015 -- A new study published by Purdue University (PU), in conjunction with Metropolitan State University (MSU) of Denver, provides guidance to health officials and drinking water providers on how to decontaminate plumbing systems. The research is the first step toward science-based flushing protocols that can be applied to recover from a drinking water contamination incident.

"In the wake of recent chemical spills and algal-toxin contamination events in drinking water, decontamination is a standard step in enabling the affected community to regain safe drinking water access," said Andrew Whelton, assistant professor in PU's Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering and Lyles School of Civil Engineering. "Within the last two years alone, communities in the United States and Canada have faced water contamination caused by chemical spills and algal toxins."

The findings are detailed in a research paper (here), authored by Whelton; PU graduate student Karen Casteloes; and MSU assistant professor Randi Brazeau. The study builds on previous work conducted by Whelton's university research team, which in January 2014 responded to the Elk River Chemical Spill in West Virginia (see "WV chemical spill shuts down capital city, water supplies"). Initially unfunded, his team was later supported by a National Science Foundation RAPID grant and was called in by the governor to assist the state.

"Flushing guidance issued during past incidents lacked one or more important considerations," Whelton said. "This resulted in some cases of illness. In the new study, we review these and other deficiencies, outline research needs, and describe which factors officials should consider in plumbing system decontamination."

Some of these factors include protecting building inhabitants from chemical exposure while flushing, avoiding damage to sanitary sewer and septic systems, as well as designing an approach that removes the entire volume of contaminated water from the service line, indoor plumbing pipes and water heater. The research addresses differences in flushing durations required depending on system designs and recommends additional research to answer a variety of remaining questions.

Research by Whelton's team is ongoing and includes work related to non-toxic plumbing system decontamination aids, chemical toxicity testing of the spilled chemicals and methods to predict indoor air contamination risks. Much of the research was inspired by his team's first-hand experience responding to the chemical spill caused by Freedom Industries Inc. in West Virginia. The Purdue researchers are also constructing a new building plumbing testing facility.

"This one-of-a-kind facility will enable us to recreate field conditions, test our models and decontamination technologies, and also identify problematic situations that render infrastructure unrecoverable," Whelton said. "We have several organizations interested in this capability and are actively seeking additional partners."

See also:

"Associations to launch improved 'flushability' guidelines to reduce improper disposals"

"Water Groups Rally Around 'No-Flush' Initiative"

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