Making sure your facilities are safe to reopen
When reopening your building after a prolonged shutdown, whether it was due to a natural disaster or a reduction in operations because of the pandemic, you’ll want to consider a few things to ensure the health and safety of staff and students.
In September, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released recommendations for businesses and organizations that were planning on reopening their buildings in the Fall. In their document, Guidance for Reopening Buildings After Prolonged Shutdown or Reduced Operation, the CDC warns that a prolonged shutdown of facilities can produce a variety of issues within the building’s mechanical systems. For example, lack of airflow through the HVAC system can lead to the growth of mold, and low or no water use can cause a build up of metals in the water system.
First, you might consider finding a professional to conduct an environmental audit of your building to determine exactly what you are dealing with. Work with your local health agency to evaluate the air quality and environmental hazards such as lead, radon, asbestos, arsenic, and water contamination. Because most of these potential hazards are invisible to the eye, it’s best to have experienced professionals conduct an inspection so everything is taken into account.
In their Guidance for Reopening, the CDC states that mold can grow on any “building materials where there is moisture… such as ceiling tiles, wallpaper, insulation, drywall, carpet, and fabric.” Most people are probably aware that mold can grow from leaks in the roof, windows, or pipes. But the CDC also warns that moisture can accumulate on surfaces from condensation, even without an active leak. Condensation can happen when there is too much humidity in a building’s air, a common problem during the summer when no air conditioning is running.
The problem with mold spores is that they can become airborne very easily and cause severe problems in your respiratory system, especially for those with asthma or other breathing conditions.
We recommend that facility owners follow the CDC’s five steps to minimize mold risk during and after a prolonged shutdown to reduce the possibility for mold in their buildings.
Water and Plumbing
The CDC also recommends that you evaluate the safety of your facility’s water systems. When water is allowed to remain stagnant in pipes and other places such as toilets and hot water tanks, it can lead to a host of problems. The first of which is growth of bacteria, such as Legionella.
Legionella causes Legionnaire’s disease, a type of pneumonia, and can be particularly harmful for those with compromised immune systems. The CDC recommends that precautions should be taken to reduce the chance that standing or stagnant water will become a breathable aerosol as you begin flushing the system.
The second problem is the build up of heavy metals, such as lead and copper, that the CDC says can enter drinking water in a building from corrosion of a building’s plumbing.
“Corrosion may occur during long periods of low or no water use, leading to potentially high levels of lead or other metals in the building’s drinking water,” the CDC explains. “Lead is harmful to health, especially for children, as there is no known safe level in children’s blood.”
It’s exciting to have the opportunity to reopen our buildings for continued in-person education, but it is extremely important that it is done safely and with caution. Please consider every potential harm so that all in attendance are kept safe and healthy, and are able to continue to learn and grow together.