Page last updated: April 9, 2020

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This page will be updated periodically with limited general information, specific water-sector technical information, WEF events information, and links to trusted sites for the most up-to-date official information. 


What we know today

To date, the scientific community has found no evidence of viable COVID-19 virus in wastewater systems.

Current efforts to elucidate numbers of infections in the community and support public health surveillance have relied on detecting the virus in wastewater using molecular techniques that identify genetic material (RNA), but this method does not assess virus viability or infectivity. Further, there is currently no epidemiological evidence that wastewater is a route of transmission.

While there is still a lot we don't know, it appears that contracting COVID-19 through exposure to wastewater is unlikely.

WEF is continuing to work on the matter of wastewater worker protection from disease causing microorganisms and pathogens, in general — especially via aerosols — by forming a Blue Ribbon Panel to address the issue of required personal protective equipment and protective work and hygiene practices.

WEF will continue to post the latest information on this page. See also “Biological Hazards at Wastewater Treatment Facilities,” which is Chapter 8 of WEF’s Manual Practice No. 1, Safety, Health, and Security in Wastewater Systems (Sixth Edition).

 

From the U.S. CDC

Currently, there is no evidence that coronavirus survives the disinfection process for drinking water and wastewater.

  • The COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water.
  • The risk of transmission through feces is expected to be low based on data from previous outbreaks of related coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
  • At this time, the risk of transmission of COVID-19 through sewerage systems is thought to be low.

No coronavirus-specific protections are recommended for employees involved in wastewater management operations, including those at 

wastewater treatment facilities.

  • Water resource recovery facility operations should ensure workers follow routine practices to prevent exposure to wastewater. These include using engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) normally required for work tasks when handling untreated wastewater.
  • Water workers should
    • wear appropriate PPE, which includes protective outerwear, gloves, boots, and goggles or face shield masks;
    • wash their hands frequently; and
    • avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

Source: U.S. CDC, Water Transmission and COVID-19

Use the buttons below to access more in-depth information

Water-Sector Specific Information  WEF Coronavirus Update Digests  WEF Events Update  Trusted Sources  TRAINING & EDUCATION RESOURCES  FAQs

Note: The information posted here is a summary of current knowledge about this emerging viral pathogen. The state of knowledge will evolve as additional investigation and research is conducted, so continuous review of reputable sources and websites is advised.

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Water-Sector Specific Information

To help put the outbreak of coronavirus into perspective, WEF and its partner organizations have begun creating resources and compiling links to external sources that speak to the specific concerns of water sector workers. This list of articles, podcasts, webcasts, fact sheets and more will be updated as new materials are available.

Water Sector Coronavirus Assistance
During this unprecedented time responding to the coronavirus pandemic, it is our collective responsibility to help ensure worker safety and keep essential water and wastewater infrastructure operating. To aid water and wastewater utilities in protecting and maintaining public health during the coronavirus response, several water sector partners have extended offers to help.

U.S. EPA Provides Template for Essential Worker Documentation (April 3)
On March 27, U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler sent a letter to governors in all 50 states, territories, and Washington, D.C., requesting that water and wastewater workers, as well as the manufacturers and suppliers who provide vital services and materials to the water sector, be considered essential workers and businesses by state authorities when enacting restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus. To help aid in the implmentation of that process, EPA now has provided a template that state, localities, and water utilities can use to provide documentation to workers that are considered essential. Water Utility Template: COVID-19 Pandemc (.DOCX)

Overview of the Coronavirus, Transmission and Operations Planning Webinar (April 1)
The webinar from the California Water Environment Assocaition provides the latest information about the coronavirus; potential transmission of the disease COVID19 via wastewater systems; disinfection standards to inactivate the virus; and planning for operations during a pandemic. This webinar is the first in a series on the disease COVID-19 and the virus itself in support of CWEA’s mission to provide education and support for California’s wastewater professionals.

Accommodating Essential Water Services (March 31)
In recent days, state and federal regulatory groups have made several temporary policy changes that recognize the water sector’s critical role in protecting public health during the coronavirus pandemic. These changes relax certain restrictions, such as temporarily honoring expired operator certification credentials or forgiving missed consent decree deadlines, that could otherwise impede a water resource recovery facility’s (WRRF’s) ability to respond locally to coronavirus in the most effective way possible.


Pulse Check – WEF Poll Finds Utilities Confident in Operations, Changing Work Arrangements (March 31)
With the water sector protecting public health throughout the coronavirus pandemic, WEF administered a quick, informal poll to gain some insights into how this situation is effecting the water workforce. The results were collected between March 23 and 28.

Experts Share Advice on Continuity of Operations During Coronavirus Pandemic (March 27)
For utility managers, effectively responding to coronavirus requires additional attention to employee safety and welfare, workplace hygiene, and public communications. Water sector experts discussed these vital considerations for WRRFs during the Water Environment Federation (Alexandria, Va.) webcast, “Pandemic Continuity of Operations (COOP) Essential Personnel.” This WEF Highlights article breaks down the main points shared during the webcast.

WEF Webcast Discusses Regulatory Concerns During Coronavirus Crisis (March 27)
During the coronavirus pandemic, directives focused on avoiding social contact create unprecedented questions for the relationship between water and wastewater utilities and environmental regulators. This article reveals the key takeaway messages from the hourlong WEF webcast, “Clean Water Act Regulatory Issues in a Pandemic.” The hourlong discussion and article offers regulatory and legal perspectives on emerging compliance and enforcement issues during a unique global health emergency.

EPA Deems Water Workers Essential (March 27)
On March 27, U.S. EPA Administrator, Andrew Wheeler issued a letter to state governors requesting that water and wastewater workers, as well as the manufacturers and suppliers who provide vital services and materials to the water sector, be considered essential workers and businesses by state authorities when enacting restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19.


Words On Water #134: Des Moines Water Works Shelters-In-Place to Respond to Coronavirus (March 27)
Ted Corrigan is interim CEO and General Manager and Kyle Danley is Director of Water Production at Des Moines Water Works. In this podcast, Ted and Kyle explain how the utility responded to coronavirus by activating a long-standing response plan and having essential staff shelter-in-place at its three treatment facilities. They discuss how 20 employees will stay onsite for two week rotations, working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week to provide clean water and sanitation for 500,000 people in central Iowa. Ted and Kyle say the staff understand they are serving in a public health role and helping their community, and that support is strong from external staff, the utility’s board, and the union.


Blog: What We Know About Coronavirus and Water Treatment (March 26)
This blog by Rasha Maal-Bared, Senior Microbiologist at EPCOR and Chair of WEF’s Waterborne Infectious Disease Outbreak Control Subcommittee (WIDOC) puts in plain terms what we know about dealing with coronavirus in the water sector. The key points: there is no evidence that coronavirus survives the disinfection processes for drinking water and wastewater treatment and no coronavirus-specific protections are recommended for employees involved in wastewater management. Read on for more.


Water Sector Request: ‘Flush Wisely’ (March 23)
As the world adapts to dealing with coronavirus — social distancing, working from home, and self-quarantining if ill — the perceived hoarding and scarcity of toilet paper has emerged almost as a joke. But, if people start flushing unsuitable materials, the results will be anything but funny.

Webcast: Clean Water Act Regulatory Issues in a Pandemic (March 20)
During the coronavirus pandemic, water and wastewater utilities are currently triggering their response plans for continuity of operations. These events also trigger regulatory issues under the Clean Water Act as utilities work to maintain compliance during this pandemic. Utilities need to consider special conditions in their Consent Decrees and/or permits, consider regulatory obligations and maintain close contact with their regulators. This webcast will provide information on key considerations from a regulator and a regulated community perspective.


Webcast: Pandemic Continuity of Operations (COOP) Essential Personnel (March 19)
During the coronavirus pandemic, water and wastewater utilities are currently triggering their response plans for continuity of operations. A significant component during a pandemic is a consideration of critical functions that include essential personnel whose role does not allow for telework. Critical services must continue and COOP activities in the face of potentially severe staff shortages and absenteeism are of concern. This webcast will focus on the role of essential personnel.


A Message to the WEF Community About Coronavirus (March 16)

The Water Environment Federation is always focused on the health and safety of our members, whether at our events, in the water workplace, or here in the WEF office.

U.S. CDC Water Transmission and COVID-19 (March 11)
Drinking Water, Recreational Water, and Wastewater: What You Need to Know

World Health Organization Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Waste Management for COVID-19 (March 3)
This Technical Brief supplements existing IPC documents by referring to and summarizing WHO guidance on water, sanitation and health care waste which is relevant for viruses (including coronaviruses). This Technical Brief is written in particular for water and sanitation practitioners and providers.


Words On Water #128: Coronavirus and Water Treatment (March 2)
Dr. Rasha Maal-Bared is Senior Microbiologist at EPCOR and Scott Schaefer is Wastewater Practice Leader at AE2S and Chair of WEF’s Disinfection & Public Health Committee. In this episode Rasha and Scott discuss the coronavirus, its origin, and the agencies involved in response. They explain why the water sector should pay attention to coronavirus, how treatment addresses the virus, and that water workers should follow standard safety protocol. Rasha and Scott say the water sector should stay informed of developments but remain calm.


AWWA Resources Page: Coronavirus and Water (Feb. 28)
The American Water Works Association also has compiled a set of resources on coronavirus to help water utilities be prepared. 


Webcast: Updates on Novel Coronavirus For Water Professionals (Feb 25)
This webcast, organized by WEF's Disinfection and Public Health Committee (DPHC), provided the most up-to-date information available on novel coronavirus from some of the most reputable names in infectious disease control and emergency response. It highlighted virus ecology, transmission, control, epidemiology, government agency response, and specific impacts for the water community. Speakers also provided the audience with additional resources and published recommendations about this ongoing outbreak.


The Water Professional's Guide to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (Feb. 11)
The WEF Disinfection and Public Health Committee (DPHC) Waterborne Infectious Disease Outbreak Control (WIDOC) Working Group has created a series of three articles that explain the current situation with a focus on how it may affect wastewater treatment and the safety of water sector workers. These articles also contain many links to developing research on this epidemic.

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WEF Coronavirus Update Digests

These periodic email updates contain the most recent resources produced by WEF about coronavirus and its effects on the water sector.

 

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WEF Events Update

The following events are CANCELED:

The following events are proceeding as planned:

WEF Events Update

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Trusted Sources

This situation is developing and changing quickly. The links below point to reputable and reliable sources of information that are updated frequently with technical guidance, public health information, and the latest research.

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Training & Education Resources

In response to the coronavirus pandemic and to prioritize health and safety, WEF cancelled several conferences this spring. But to continue our mission of connecting water professionals with the information and resources they need, we have developed robust digital programs and online offerings. These virtual conferences, printed resources, and a limited-time opportunity to access nearly all WEF member benefits will provide the latest knowledge from across the water sector and enable you to earn PDHs.

Limited-Time, Complimentary WEF E-Membership
This short-term, complimentary e-WEF membership has been created to provide water professionals who are first-time WEF members with expedient, online access to relevant information, tools, and resources during the coronavirus pandemic. This short-term membership will expire on June 30. (This promotion is for first-time, new members only; state or regional Member Association memberships are not included.)

New Digital Programming
WEF is pleased to offer access to a suite of new, digital programming opportunities, allowing you to connect with and learn from sector experts, while earning valuable PDHs – all from your computer or mobile device. Choose from a variety of options on the topics of most interest to you. Current offerings include

Free Safety Resource on Biological Hazards
WEF has made access free to “Biological Hazards at Wastewater Treatment Facilities,” via Access Water. This book chapter is written by water professionals for water professionals to help protect them against workplace exposure to pathogens, including viruses. This chapter is part of the book, Safety, Health, and Security in Wastewater Systems, 6th Edition (Manual of Practice No. 1). (WEF also has discounted the price of the 482-page, hardcover book by 50%.)


New WATER'S WORTH IT® Toolkit Highlights Role of Water Sector in Coronavirus Response
WEF has released a new WATER’S WORTH IT® toolkit to raise public awareness about the vital role of water utilities and workers in the coronavirus response. The high-impact materials highlight the critical need for water and wastewater services during this unprecedented time and recognize the dedicated professionals who are working on the front lines to provide clean water and sanitation for their communities. The toolkit is available on the WATER’S WORTH IT® website and features a series of graphics that are designed for social media, web, and email use. 

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are maintaining a webpage on prevention and treatment of coronavirus. In short, the prevention guideance is the same for avoiding the flu. 

CDC Prevention Guidance 

On Feb. 5, 2020, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released its new wastewater working guidance stating that current disinfection conditions in WRRFs, such as oxidation with hypochlorite or peracetic acid, and inactivation by ultraviolet irradiation, are expected to be sufficient to protect wastewater workers and public health. The recommendation is based on coronavirus disinfection data from healthcare settings and corresponds with OSHA’s position on the susceptibility of coronaviruses to disinfection.

Based on new OSHA guidance (as of Feb. 11, 2020), no.

Wastewater treatment and collection system workers are commonly exposed to untreated wastewater that contains disease-causing organisms that could result in an infection. While the risk of infection may increase during some outbreaks, thus requiring additional protective measures for workers, this is not the case for 2019-nCoV.

WRRF 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.

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On March 3, 2020, the World Health Organization released a technical brief to supplement existing IPC documents by referring to and summarizing WHO guidance on water, sanitation and health care waste which is relevant for viruses (including coronaviruses). This Technical Brief is written in particular for water and sanitation practitioners and providers.

OSHA has created a page dedicated to 2019-nCoV occupational health protection that includes links to PPE standards.