Pandemic Lockdowns and Water Quality: a Revealing Study on Building Usage

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Credit: Environmental Science and Ecotechnology

During the COVID-19 pandemic, lower occupancy in buildings led to reduced water use, raising concerns about water quality due to stagnation. Government warnings highlighted increased risks of chemical and microbiological contamination in water systems. Studies showed that reduced usage and stagnation could elevate heavy metal levels and decrease disinfectant effectiveness, affecting microbial growth. To address this, regular fixture flushing was recommended, which temporarily improved water quality but also revealed the complexities of managing building water systems effectively.

In a recent study ( published in Volume 18 of the journal Environmental Science and Ecotechnology, reveals crucial insights into the impact of reduced building occupancy on water quality.

Conducted at Purdue University, this research explored the impact of reduced building occupancy during the COVID-19 pandemic on water quality. The study focused on four buildings with varied characteristics and assessed water quality changes during low-use periods. Monitoring key parameters such as heavy metal concentrations and chlorine levels, it evaluated the effects of water stagnation.

The findings showed that prolonged stagnation led to significant variations in water quality, including changes in heavy metal and chlorine levels. These variations were influenced by factors like the building's age, size, and water system design. The study also assessed the effectiveness of flushing practices, a method to refresh stagnant water in plumbing systems.

The results revealed that while flushing could alleviate some of the negative effects of stagnation, its effectiveness varied across different building types, highlighting the complexity of managing water quality in buildings with changing occupancy levels. This research underscores the importance of developing customized water management strategies, particularly during unexpected events like pandemics, which can significantly alter building usage patterns.


  • No standard plumbing flushing guidance was available.
  • Four low occupancy institutional buildings (with the same source) were sampled.
  • Chlorine residual was often not detected across all buildings.
  • No chlorine was detected at the entry of 1 building after flushing for 7 h.
  • No widespread Cu, Mn, Pb, and Zn contamination was found.

Lead researcher Kyungyeon Ra, along with a team from Purdue University, underscores the significance of this research in understanding the changes in water quality due to altered building occupancy patterns during the pandemic.

This study highlights the need for effective water management strategies in buildings with low occupancy. The findings have implications for public health, particularly in understanding and mitigating risks associated with water stagnation and devising appropriate flushing protocols.





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Funding information

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) RAPID (2027049); The US NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRFP) Grant under (DGE-1333468). U.S; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding (R836890). The Purdue University Doctoral Fellowship and the Purdue University Lillian Gilbreth Postdoctoral Fellowship.

About Environmental Science and Ecotechnology

Environmental Science and Ecotechnology (ISSN 2666-4984) is an international, peer-reviewed, and open-access journal published by Elsevier. The journal publishes significant views and research across the full spectrum of ecology and environmental sciences, such as climate change, sustainability, biodiversity conservation, environment & health, green catalysis/processing for pollution control, and AI-driven environmental engineering. The latest impact factor of ESE is 12.6, according to the Journal Citation ReportTM 2022.


Environmental Science and Ecotechnology

Subject of Research

Not applicable

Article Title

Four buildings and a flush: Lessons from degraded water quality and recommendations on building water management

Article Publication Date


COI Statement

The authors declare that they have no competing interests

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