Office buildings, schools, gyms and other buildings (like ours) are currently closed across continents to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by decreasing the social contact caused by large numbers of people gathering in one place. This is also an unprecedented experiment in learning what will be required to safely reopen such buildings for public use.

Engineering academics at Purdue University announced this week that they’ve been funded to study this potential problem. “We don’t design buildings to be shut down for months,” said Andrew Whelton, an associate professor of civil engineering and environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue. “This study focuses on the consequences and could help building owners make sure that their buildings are safe and operational when occupants return.”

The researchers’ concern is that stagnant water sitting in pipes for long periods of time could contain high amounts of heavy metals and pathogens. They’ll be monitoring water quality in buildings during the current extended vacancy as well as when people return.

When you think about it, building owners, public health officials, water utilities and building occupants all need to know whether, when and how it will be safe to turn on the taps when they return. We don’t want to follow a pandemic with another kind of crisis.

Whelton’s team found in previous studies that water quality does change in pipes at schools shut down for a summer and at large office buildings. They also advised health officials and the community on returning buildings to safe use after the 2018 Camp Fire in California.

For more info, check out this YouTube video describing the new study.