Water quality emergencies can create environmental and health hazards for students and staff in addition to disrupting operations for days or even weeks at a time. Proper planning can help schools contain the scope of a water quality emergency, reduce the potential for exposures to students and staff, and minimize the disruption to operations.
When developing a plan for water quality emergencies, consider how they might come about, the steps necessary to address them as they occur, and alternative methods to maintain sufficient water for drinking, hand washing, food preparation, and toilet flushing.
Below are five of the most common types of water quality emergencies and potential action steps to address them.
|Water Quality Emergency
|Potential Action Steps
|Contamination of the water supply
|One of the most serious water quality emergencies is contamination of the school’s water supply. This can occur through a variety of means, such as a sewage leak, harmful bacteria, or chemicals making their way into the water supply. It’s particularly dangerous because it can lead to illness if the contaminated water is consumed or used for washing hands or food.
|Lead or other heavy metal poisoning
|Older buildings, particularly those with aging pipes, may face the risk of lead or other heavy metals leaching into the water supply. These toxins can cause serious health issues, especially in children, who are more vulnerable to the effects of lead.
|In some cases, local water supplies might be affected by a situation that requires a temporary boil-water advisory. This might be due to a major pipe break, natural disaster, or other large-scale issue. During such advisories, the water is not safe to consume or use without boiling first, creating a significant inconvenience and potential risk.
|Loss of water supply
|Schools can face a water emergency if their supply is suddenly cut off due to an infrastructure failure or natural disaster. A lack of water can disrupt essential operations, from sanitation to food preparation, and could potentially necessitate temporary school closures.
|Waterborne Disease Outbreak
|This is a serious situation where the school’s water supply is contaminated with pathogens that cause diseases, such as E. coli, Giardia, or Cryptosporidium. This could potentially lead to a large-scale outbreak of illness among students and staff if not immediately addressed.
The Healthy Green Schools & Colleges standard includes criteria to help schools improve the health and sustainability of their campuses, including guidance on implementing water quality emergency management procedures. HGSC can help you measure the impact of your current program and track your progress toward institutional goals. When you join the HGSC program, you’ll receive live and on-demand training materials, resources, and regular access to a nationwide network of facility professionals from K-12 and higher education institutions. Learn more and join today.