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Listen to Episode 119

Josh talks with Erica Walker, Director of Environmental Policy & Programs at 120Water, about managing water quality and testing. They discuss the risks of facilities not being used during COVID-19 with disinfection and corrosion and ways to help with flushing, metals testing and building your water management plan. 

Show Notes: 

Show Script:

Josh Peach  
Welcome to the Operate Intelligently Podcast, the podcast for all things operations.

Hello, Operate Intelligently listeners. This is Joshua Peach, your host and this morning I am excited to be talking all things H2O with a new friend, Erica Walker from 120 Water. Hi Erica, welcome to the podcast.

Erica Walker  
Hi, Joshua. Thanks for having me.

Josh Peach  
Oh, happy to have you. This is an interesting one. I had Linda who works with you guys reach out to me last week and say you need to have Erica on the podcast, because there's a lot going on in the water world. These buildings that are unoccupied or low occupied, that people need to be aware of and make sure that we're doing what we're supposed to do. So let's start out, who are you? What do you do and talk a little bit about what you do with relation to water and then we'll dig into kind of the COVID situation.

Erica Walker  
Yeah. And yeah, thanks for having me. And actually, the only regret I have is that I can't be there in person. I think I listened to your first COVID episode and you got some people together in cars, I think.

Josh Peach  
Yeah, a Target parking lot. Yeah, yeah, that was a good one. The sound wasn't perfect because we were using just cell coverage. You couldn't pick up the Wi Fi at Target but yeah, that was the the initial social distancing with Dr. Marcus and Kenny Wertz. Yeah, that was a good one.

Erica Walker  
Yeah. You really have something there. I don't know if you've seen or listened to Jerry Seinfeld's riding in cars with comedians drinking coffee.

Josh Peach  
Yeah, you know, I haven't gotten into it yet. I feel like you're the second person in the last week that has told me I need to watch it. So I need to get it, get on that.

Erica Walker  
Well, what I'm saying is you could be you know, talking, talking in cars with operations professionals during COVID.

Josh Peach  
In target parking lots. Gonna give Target a plug. I mean, they're doing great work, all those guys and girls over there putting in the hours.

Erica Walker  
Yes, but anyway, I digress. Thanks for having me. Yes, I'm the Director of Environmental Policy and Programs. The official water nerd or one of many, I'm in good company at 120 Water. And we'll talk about that in a minute. So, my background I'm from a rural farming community, grew up around nature, river in my backyard, hiking all the time with my parents, and so I'd always loved that and science courses. I ended up sort of after taking a winding path, post high school playing a little music with my friends and touring around a bit. I then sat down and thought about what I wanted to do and and remembered how much I loved science and nature. I ended up studying environmental science and policy at IU Bloomington, which is where I live. I'm in South Central Indiana now. And in my career, I've been mostly in the public space. So I've worked for water utilities on drinking water protection, public agencies, the EPA, for a short stint in college. And the Indiana Finance Authority, which is sort of like an environmental bank for drinking and wastewater plants. They fund all the infrastructure improvements that states do around the country. And actually, like so many people in the drinking water space after Flint happened, I got pulled into lead. And at that time, the agency was offering free water testing to all public schools in the state of Indiana for lead. And so I helped run that program. And in my particular role actually was when when the data would come in, I would review it and I would get on the phone with facility managers at public school districts. And we would talk about what the results meant. And really practically, what can they do in the short term to protect public health? How can they get lead out of their facilities. And as I was sort of looking at what would be next 120 Water, the company that I work for now, they built a software platform that the state used to operate that big project and program and I still really care about, you know, the issue of water quality, lead and other issues like PFOSS, and Legionella. And so I felt like I could make a big impact at this company. And you know, we are a software company, a cloud based software company. We run out of Zionsville, Indiana. We're in 15 states today. And what we're really trying to do is we're helping people who are monitoring water quality in their buildings, in their cities and in their states, manage that data, collaborate with one another, coordinate between lab entities, and then do something with those results. For instance, and we'll probably talk about this but facility professionals, especially operations staff have a million things to do. When it comes to things like lead testing, or PFOSS testing, this is a project they're constantly putting out fires, they're constantly doing other things. And so being able to take those results and make it actionable, being able to communicate it back. We feel that that's really just as important as doing the testing work itself. And so, you know, our products are all sort of about managing that entire process.

Josh Peach  
What interesting is and I think it told you when we did the exploratory call, I was in the water well the spring water business, spring water delivery business, and the big buzz back in the mid 90s, early 2000s was cryptosporidium in water. Which is a bacteria that you don't hear about too often anymore because I think the the filtering and the chlorine or whatever's put in the water is getting rid of it. But the lead and the PFOSS stuff is, is definitely very scary and it's eye opening when things like Flint happen that's just so widespread, and such an impact. That's normal during normal business hours that this stuff is happening. The interest for me with you was because I didn't even think about this. The last seven weeks COVID has gotten me to think about a million different moving pieces or non-moving pieces in these buildings. I've never had to think about. One of the things that I didn't think about is--water isn't flowing. So the pipes, there isn't a lot of activity in those. There's not toilets being flushed, there's not sinks being run, there's not water fountains re-filling bottles. And I didn't think that there was much of a risk to it other than water's just sitting and it might come out a little brown or discolored over time, which I think that's a natural thing that happens, correct me if I'm wrong, but there's risks involved. And there's things specifically that our facility professionals should be thinking about when they have a building that we're going on month two of unoccupied and realistically now we're going into the summer, they're going to be going, you know, essentially March 16, at least August 31. Before there's any real occupancy of any level of regular use. What are some of the risks or what are some of the things that they should be doing to prevent any of those risks from becoming something

Erica Walker  
Yeah, let's let's talk about the risks first, and then maybe some of the steps that people can take. You know, you mentioned sort of I like your way of framing it that we almost have kind of an extended summer period of dormancy in a lot of these buildings, especially when we think about schools. But really, you know, the two primary concerns we have around kind of the loss of disinfection effectiveness or power, and then the corrosion of metals. You mentioned, cryptosporidium, you know, in our long history in the United States, we really focused on disinfecting water. That's been the biggest emphasis in water treatment. And we've come kind of a long way since the era of the common cup, right when we would actually literally all be sharing the same cup on a train or at a public well, and we were transmitting diseases between each other. We then realized that you know, within the actual drinking water itself, things like cryptosporidium can be transferred. And so we started disinfecting water. In buildings, it's kind of this next level thing. If you are receiving water from a water utility, for example, that water utility is has taken steps to disinfect with chlorine or UV or other things. And that disinfectant can lose effectiveness over time as it's interacting with organic matter in the water. So as that disinfectant residual decreases, then what you start to worry about are pathogens and bacterial growth happening inside of the actual pipes in the biofilms. So you know, you're worried about things like have you heard about Legionella?  So Legionella, that's probably one of the more well known, at least, you know if this at this time, risk factors for really anything large building we can be talking about schools or hotels or other things. And so certainly as that disinfectant residual goes down, it can promote the growth of those things. So that's one  disinfectant risk. The other thing though, is that at the same time as that disinfectant is interacting with the water, it can produce what's called disinfected byproduct and that can build up in the water. And as that interaction happens, as that stagnant water sitting there and the disinfected byproduct is building up, that really just increases risk right for when someone goes in and takes a drink of water, they might be exposed to what is a possible human carcinogen, so that's disinfection. On the corrosion side, we're really talking about water stagnation, increasing the corosivity of water and pulling out heavy metals from the plumbing infrastructure itself. So that's what a school or another large building would own. We're talking about things like solder, possibly lead pipes. So, you know, those are the those are the two big risks.

Josh Peach  
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Erica Walker  
In terms of what facilities can do, there are a number of steps they can take. The first I would say would be to develop a flushing plan. And there are a number of great templates out there. I think the first I would point folks to is a center called the Purdue Center for Plumbing Safety. They've got a few templates out there that actually say, you know, if you have this type of infrastructure, the size of the building, this is how you would set your team up to do flushing. That notion of pouring fresh water in, trying to flush the entire volume of the water in the building and pull maybe some of that lead material that has come into solution and that is sitting in the pipes out of the building. And at the same time, bring fresh chlorinated water back into the system, right. So even before people come back into the building, I think flushing if done correctly, and this is, you know, this isn't as simple as just like turning on the tap for a couple seconds, right? You actually have to have a plan in place and make sure you're moving the entire volume of that water. But doing that can actually decrease the likelihood that you'll have a loss of disinfection power and that you'll have a bunch of corroded metals sitting in in the water.

Josh Peach  
Okay. And just out of curiosity, you know, the stupid question, you know, pipes were made out of lead up until when like, how, like, what were they still made with lead? Is there still like is that the most prevalent use? I think about, you know, there was a water main break, and most people don't even think about that, but that's basically the breakdown of the metal pipe that carries the water whether it's sewer or tap water and that there's something wrong. What is that? What is in a typical municipals are every town USA have led pipes.

Erica Walker  
Right. It's actually a really interesting question not not stupid or silly at all. It's one of the most important questions that we can ask about this issue. So, you know, it's the it's the six year anniversary of Flint, Michigan, the water crisis there, I think last week, actually. And yeah, and they're, of course, you know, what we were talking about were lead, they're called lead service lines and you brought up main, so a service line is basically the straw that connects a municipalities main to a person's house. It's the it's the delivery pipe for drinking water in a residential home. And we used to make those out of lead, as you said, actually, about 200 years ago, most cities started putting them in the ground and we didn't stop until the EPA made us stop in 1988. Some cities stopped a lot earlier, maybe they had plumbing codes that that prevented them from doing it in some cities even pass laws. But like the city of Chicago, for example, they actually required that lead pipes be used for service lines until 1986. So it's not a Flint problem. The issue of lead pipes as a problem and probably every large American city, across the nation. The nuance, I think, for facilities is lead is a soft metal. It wasn't cheap. That's not why people picked it. It actually doesn't. It doesn't break down as easily as some of the other pipes. And so you know, you'd mentioned the main break, it was actually selected because it's nice, soft, malleable, and it's not as likely to leak. It's easy to move it around and hook it up to mains as the infrastructure change. So that's what made lead pipes a preferable thing for especially small residential homes in larger buildings, it is not a good soft metals are not a good option for transferring water from the main to the building. And so they're pretty we think they're pretty uncommon in things like schools, maybe residential daycares, unfortunately, but not schools, where the lead is coming from in school facilities is largely inside the building. And you had asked you know, if blood is blood still permitted and plumbing materials and the answer is actually yes, it is. The definition of lead free today is .25% of the wetted surface can still be lead. And up until 2014, it was actually 8% was allowable and that that company could still call it lead free. So, what that really means is we think that if your facility is older than 2014 you likely have some leaded plumbing materials in your facility. And whether or not you will find that, whether or not the lead will come out into drinking water that you're providing to people depends on the water quality, which is how we bring back in that COVID piece, right? Maybe the water that you are purchasing from your utility. It was it was treated, and it wasn't corrosive, but the moment that the water chemistry changes like it did in Flint when they switched water sources, then lead starts to come out and drinking water. So it's sort of it can be in the street and lead service lines, it can be in the facility and whether or not it comes out as a real unknown and dependent upon the water chemistry in that particular building.

Josh Peach  
Okay. One of the things that was as you're talking I'm kind of thinking through and today for whatever reason in a number of areas in the country, I think May the fourth was supposed to be kind of a reopen day originally. It was in Massachusetts where I am. But they're pushing back, you know, they're pushing back the idea of reopening the economy and businesses and figuring out what's essential, non essential new listing, they push it back, I think May 18. But I know that today there's a number of states and a number of areas that are going back to having their staff in in the buildings to do those long time summer projects and things. You know, let's do this. Let's talk about the two or three takeaways for our listeners to think about, what should they be doing right now. And then after that, I want to follow it with the two or three things that they should be doing ongoing post COVID to make sure that they're providing the best quality product water for their consumers, customers, the students what have you.

Erica Walker  
Yeah, so I think right now, certainly look into a flushing plan if you don't already have one, and that flushing really can can start right now to prevent your water quality from deteriorating before the doors open and then certainly carry it on, I would say at least once a week be flushing. Even after people come back in the building, so flushing plan would be really important. I think next would be if you don't already have one, they're called water management plans. And that's all about, really the management of bacterial and pathogen growth. They're specifically for Legionella. But again, there's free templates out there through the CDC and others. And it involves mapping your inventory of your building and monitoring for things like chlorine and temperature, that get that water management plan and your flushing plan in place now, and then the next thing I would say too, is while you're mapping, you know, an inventory of your water infrastructure for your water management plan. Do the same thing for metals testing. If you haven't already done it. I think there's 15 states that require it for schools now, but not everyone does. So go ahead and get that ready because if you haven't done baseline testing, you're going to want to do that.

Josh Peach  
Right. Just out of curiosity, you know, when we open this up, we talk about the facility professionals having a million things on their plate. And the assumption is that they've got, you know, full handle on all of them, and everybody's aware of it. And they are they're wildly aware of everything. How, how, how, what do you think the percentage of people that you have an initial interaction with, have a water management plan in place? Do they have one? Is it something that was developed 10 years ago and hasn't been readjusted? Or has the Flint awareness really driven more people to do more?

Erica Walker  
Yeah, I think water management plans as a as a thing in the water industry are specifically about Legionella. And I think we actually need to bust that way of thinking apart and say it's about water management in the building. And that includes things like metals and Legionella and PFOSS and everything, because we're dealing with really busy folks that don't have time to have these piecemeal projects thrown onto their plate. But so I would say you know, for a water management plan, if we're talking about Legionella, I think there's definitely a lack of awareness there. They're required in a lot of healthcare facilities that provide water to either immunocompromised individuals or the elderly, because those people are most at risk to contract Legionella. Whereas lead is not good for anybody. It's not like iron or zinc, right? We need those things. They're good for our health. No amount of lead is good for you or I, but we know it's really really bad for children. And so there is a lot of awareness after Flint, not really about Legionella as much in school, for example, but certainly about about lead. You know, like I said, there are 15 states that already require it. So in all of those states, if you're a school in that state, you've heard about lead testing, you've probably already done it. But I think Legionella may be going to be along with PFOSS, that's probably going to be sort of the next wave of testing concern.

Josh Peach  
Do you want to touch on PFOSS a little bit just because it like as I shared with you, you know, my area where I where I am PFOSS is front and center at something that's in our water or public drinking supply. And it's in a number of other places in the country. And I've had a couple of discussions with folks around the country that I know that it's there. And it's not a topic of discussion yet. And, you know, the importance that it should be is I think pretty, you know, getting ahead of it if you can because there's a  number of challenges with it. With the pump filters, you know, filtration and the different ways to remove it are not necessarily in line with the filtration systems that are in some areas. So, you mind educating a little bit on that I know that's going outside of COVID. But it's not outside of your expertise. So might as well take advantage of while you're here.

Erica Walker  
Talk about all the things, yeah. Yeah, certainly, we're still learning so much about PFOSS. And like lead, every state is sort of handling it in their own way and on their own as we await for really a federal strategy. You know, I think our first emphasis really needs to be on certainly restricting the use of those things. I mean, those chemicals are still coming on the market, actually. There's 3,000 of them known today and they're still being produced. So that's happening. I mean, I think we're at for facilities and for water quality, is they're now receiving water that may contain it. And so then like you said, when it comes to treatment, what do we do? I think it, you know, certainly needs to start with testing. And I would say just very practically, if you are a facility and you're near a military base, if you have, if you're served by groundwater, for example, definitely, you should think about testing, you should reach out and see if testing is being done in your area. But just in general, we need to start getting some really good baseline testing across the country. And in terms of the treatment, certainly, there's been a lot of good work being done about effective strategies for reducing PFOSS and those things are known, I think what's not known as how widespread the contamination is in drinking water systems across the country.

Josh Peach  
And that's known as the, what is it, the forever chemical? Yeah, because once it's in you, it doesn't go away. And you can have so much of it but I'm still reading up and learning myself about it but it's potentially very bad for you. Bottom line.

Erica Walker  
Yeah, once you start accumulating it's hard to get rid of.

Josh Peach  
Yeah, yep. That's that's the when they said they did once you have once it comes into your system, it just stays and builds up. I said, I don't want any. So yeah, I'm getting the test and the special filtration system where I've got well water it's always tested well, but I haven't done in a while. But I'm definitely gonna check it out for my home very soon. It'sscary to think about all of this stuff when it wasn't very long ago that you didn't even hesitate to turn the sink on in any town USA and just draw water out and drink it. And now there's, you know, a whole bunch of stuff out there that's just not good for us. That's right coming out of that same sink tab. So we definitely have to be more aware and try to make sure other people are. So wrapping up, any closing thoughts, ideas, anything that we missed? And then if there isn't, you know, how do people get ahold of you? And what do you do as far as you know, coming out to a school you do you provide them with the test kits and programming to make sure they work through that. Give a little understanding of that.

Erica Walker  
Yeah. Well, closing thoughts, take care of yourselves, anyone listening. You and your families and your mental health and your staff. That's the most important thing. And then, you know, second, I hope that you've learned a little bit about water quality and some steps that you can take now and when, when the buildings is opened up, please check out some of those resources that I mentioned on on flushing. In terms of getting a hold of us, we got a website--120 water audit. Definitely reach out to me if you have any questions: erica@120wateraudit.com. But yeah, what we provide is you know software tool to manage water quality in facilities. And attached with that, we also can provide water testing kits for things like lead. So, you know, if any of your listeners are interested in doing that work, then we might be a company that you want to check out.

Josh Peach  
Very good and you're on LinkedIn, they can follow you there to connect with you and check out your activity because I did see that you have some posts on there about COVID and water management and water testing. So that's a good spot. I'm a big big advocate of LinkedIn, there's a lot of great content out there. So listen, this was this was great again, you know, you piqued my interest when we were talking initially, and I just said, wow, I didn't even think about the damage or the challenge with unoccupied buildings. So the drinking water system supply, and this was definitely eye opening for me, I'm sure it's gonna be eye opening for a number of others. And like you said, the idea behind this is to put those million moving pieces or non moving pieces that our facility professionals have to take care of, and places front and center to make sure that they have all the needed information to make best possible decisions and plans to get these buildings back open and occupied is safely, securely and as healthy as humanly possible. So really appreciate you taking the time here on this Monday morning. I look forward to following along with you and we'll stay in touch and make sure that we keep helping our folks take care of others.

Erica Walker  
That's right. Thanks, Joshua.

Josh Peach  
Thank you and that will do it for another episode of the Operate Intelligently Podcast. We're gonna keep pushing the envelope with finding best practices related to COVID that tie into what could potentially be our new normal. And really try to help you guys. If there's any topics that you'd like to hear more about, or have me find a professional that can provide that, I'm more than happy to do that. We're actively working with a number of other exciting speakers and professionals in the industry to help in any way possible to navigate this, you know, we call an unprecedented time and it is, but it's also a time that we don't have policy and procedure and process in place. This is all new for all of us. So let's do it all together. And I look forward to talking to you next week. Thanks for listening to the Operate Intelligently Podcast produced by Dude Solutions. You can reach us by emailing dspodcast@dudesolutions.com and check us out on the web at dudesolutions.com

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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