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Environmental Engineers' Response to COVID-19

  • 1.  Environmental Engineers' Response to COVID-19

    Posted 04-10-2020 05:46 PM

    In the midst of social distancing and telecommuting we're curious about the thoughts of the engineering community - particularly the environmental engineering community which has historically played an important role in public health and safety through advances in water supply and wastewater treatment. What role do you foresee for our community following the WHO declared coronavirus pandemic?



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    Lauren Redfern Ph.D., A.M.ASCE
    Winter Springs FL
    Chair, Environmental Council
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  • 2.  RE: Environmental Engineers' Response to COVID-19

    Posted 04-11-2020 08:38 AM

    Hi Lauren-
    As an engineer working in water supply, I'm most concerned about the widespread occupancy reductions in non-residential buildings that may be commonplace going forward. Reduced occupancy of the buildings and, by extension, underutilization and stagnation of building water systems can result in lower residual disinfectant concentrations, growth of microorganisms, and accelerated pipe corrosion. In addition, utility-level changes to water quality (e.g., disinfectant residual reductions) may arise because commercial customers account for a large part of water demand and tend to be concentrated in districts which are currently seeing very low flows.

    This raises questions about what can be done to head off such problems in buildings now that still have a maintenance crew on staff, such as flushing to simulate normal water consumption, and what if anything should be done prior to re-occupancy, such as potable water testing and disinfection.

    Regards,
    Rob

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    Robert Fields P.E., M.ASCE
    Sr. Environmental Engineer
    New York NY
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  • 3.  RE: Environmental Engineers' Response to COVID-19

    Posted 04-12-2020 06:44 PM
    Hi Lauren--I'm an Env Engr & Past-Pres of Louisiana Section.  In addition to our long-standing role in public health, we also have extensive training in "fitting" models of exponential and sigmoidal curves (like the ERF) to spreading dynamics.  An important thing we can do is help others understand the nature, usefulness, but also the limitations of these kinds of models being used in policy-making.  (The ERF curve is being used by U-Wash IHME.)   A significant role of our profession is to remind others that policies ALWAYS involve trade-offs, trade-offs are best addressed forthrightly, and rigorous cost-benefit analyses--with proper regard for uncertainties in the data/analytics--can greatly assist the evaluation of trade-offs.  Cheers.

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    Robert Jacobsen P.E., M.ASCE
    President
    Baton Rouge LA
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  • 4.  RE: Environmental Engineers' Response to COVID-19

    Posted 04-13-2020 08:07 AM
    Good morning!

    Is it possible to set up in local waste water plants an ability to test incoming sewage for coronavirus?  By tracking inflows of coronavirus-infected sewage, and relative levels of infection, it seems like it might be possible to track areas where infections are higher.  This might help to make decision on where to deploy teams with the ability to test individuals in an area that is producing high levels of infected sewage, especially until we develop large quantities of more accurate tests.

    It also seems as if this might be a way to help protect the systems of smaller towns and communities, by warning them of higher rates of infected processes.

    John C. Smith, Jr., PE, MSCE, M-ASCE
    Elkton, MD

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    John C. Smith, PE, MSCE, M-ASCE
    Geotechnical Engineer
    gauss2025@...
    (904)716-1214
    Jacksonville, FL
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  • 5.  RE: Environmental Engineers' Response to COVID-19

    Posted 04-13-2020 01:05 PM
    All,

    I read an interesting article this morning-- related to research with sewage and COVID-19: A sewage surveillance effort to track COVID-19 | Michigan Engineering
    Michigan Engineering remove preview
    A sewage surveillance effort to track COVID-19 | Michigan Engineering
    With a rapid response grant from the National Science Foundation, a research team from the University of Michigan and Stanford University is exploring this and other questions about how the novel coronavirus behaves and moves through the environment.
    View this on Michigan Engineering >
    https://news.engin.umich.edu/2020/03/a-sewage-surveillance-effort-to-track-covid-19/



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    Lauren Redfern Ph.D., A.M.ASCE
    Winter Springs FL
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  • 6.  RE: Environmental Engineers' Response to COVID-19

    Posted 04-13-2020 02:08 PM
    Good afternoon!

    Thank you for forwarding the links concerning COVID tracking (and resurgence) using poop analysis.

    This will certainly help policy makers to understand why water infrastructure of all types must be modernized and expanded, both domestically and internationally--even if it requires a different paradigm in physical infrastructure and physical productivity.

    Years ago, State Veterinary Boards and Public Health boards tracked viruses in animals populations, constantly looking for viruses that might "jump species" or create potential food shortages.  We may be able to track viruses with similar tools in water supplies, especially those adjacent to animal or crop production, as well, or as surface waters enter water treatment plants before processing.

    It might be a good time to insert this kind of discussion into the "policy stream" at every level we can.

    Respectfully,
    John C. Smith, Jr., PE, MSCE, M-ASCE


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    John C. Smith, PE, MSCE, M-ASCE
    Geotechnical Engineer
    gauss2025@...
    (904)716-1214
    Elkton, Maryland
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  • 7.  RE: Environmental Engineers' Response to COVID-19

    Posted 26 days ago

    Waste analysis was also one of first go to's, its an effective way to understand the effects of COVID-19 in the general population, but it doesn't address how to detect the virus on an individual level. With demands for individual testing, feasibility becomes an issue to deliver the amount of supply needed for testing, so I was thinking about breathalyzers, considering that the size of the virus is said to be large. I don't know what the diameter of ethanol is and how it is measured but since breathalyzers are readily available it could be a matter of calibrating the device to detect the COVID-19 virus since it is a virus that attacks the patient's lungs. 

    Disclaimer:
    I am not doing research on this topic but I was interested in sharing a potential solution.

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    Oanh Le Aff.M.ASCE
    Suwanee GA
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  • 8.  RE: Environmental Engineers' Response to COVID-19

    Posted 13 days ago
    Hi @Lauren Redfern,

    Thank you for starting this discussion on such an important and timely topic. I wanted to let you know that we will be discussing this tomorrow, Thursday, May 21 during the Thursday @ 3 - Applying Lessons Learned from COVID-19 to Advance Civil Engineering​.

    I hope you can join us. You can register through the link above. Thank you and stay safe!

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    Tirza Austin
    Manager, Online Community
    American Society of Civil Engineers
    1801 Alexander Bell Drive
    Reston, VA 20191
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  • 9.  RE: Environmental Engineers' Response to COVID-19

    Posted 10 days ago
    There's a company called Green City Solutions based in Germany who said that air particulates in pollution are also an enabling factor in spreading the virus. It may be that improving air quality would not only improve public health, from our pre-covid19 conditions, but also serve as a solution in reducing the spread of the virus and preventing it from latching onto air particulate matters.

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    Oanh Le Aff.M.ASCE
    Suwanee GA
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