Building Drainage Systems and COVID19

In the good old days the topic was called Public Health, nowadays its called Plumbing and Drainage. It is essential for all buildings to have properly designed, installed and maintained sewerage systems to prevent infecting occupants, whether it is 2003 SARS, 2020 COVID19, or Influenza.

youtube is unreliable here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uv38qdl4Z1M

Recently, when COVID19 infection was discovered spreading within Hong Mei House, Tsing Yi on 10 and 11 February 2020, the RTHK report stated that the HK Government instantly reported it was not a “U trap” problem [RTHK link] a reference to the SARS outbreak in 2003 where the disease spread through the drainage system in block E Amoy Gardens infecting occupants, and requiring evacuation of the block.

youtube is unreliable at the moment, here is the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTNvTuV_CM4

I predicted the cause would be the sewer vent pipe, vent pipes are part of the high rise drainage system designed to prevent loss of the water seal in U traps. Subsequently, my suspicion was confirmed, the SMCP newspaper confirmed that the vent piping inside the bathroom was damaged (see SCMP photo below). Therefore, droplets could contaminate the bathroom area.

CREDIT: SCMP Government Press Conference Handout — BROKEN VENT pipe

Still problems in 2020

The photo below taken 15 March 2020 shows damaged drainage system vent piping.

ABOVE: faulty drainage system spreads disease taken 15 March 2020

That drainage system is damaged, it is no longer an enclosed system, allowing odour, bacteria, virus to escape into the air.

We have always known that sewerage and drainage systems are important, providing a conduit for bacteria and viruses, yet the severe lessons from SARS in 2003 and now from COVID19, demonstrate lessons still have not been learned!

COVID19 and Buildings – Tai Po

UPDATE: 15-3-2020

Apple Daily front page news – 15 March 2020

A resident on the top floor (34th floor) of Heng Tai House, Fu Heng Estate, Tai Po has been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus COVID19 today (14-3-2020) RTHK reports [link] and he lives two floors above a couple already diagnosed on 11 March 2020 (same flat number ending with 13).

This is eerily similar to the incident in Tsing Yi in Feb. 2020, where I predicted drainage vent pipes issues, the pipe was subsequently discovered to be damaged, and additionally, repairs were carried out in nine (9) flats while those residents were evacuated.

Read our early blog post

This time, residents in Heng Tai House living in flat numbers ending with 13 and 14 , and living six floors below the “latest case” on 34th floor (top floor) will be evacuated RTHK reports [link].

Why this evacuation is limited to only six floors seems strange, citing droplets from the roof vent (which one?) reentering the building as the reason. While it is not impossible, the airflow pressure and patterns created around buildings are very complex, it seems highly unlikely, that only flats 13 and 14 would be impacted in this style of public housing.

Poor drainage installation risks infection
Poor drainage installation risks infection
Poor drainage installation risks infection

Workplace

It is worthwhile remembering that in the workplace, employers are responsible, by law, for the Health and Safety of their employees! Therefore workers in high traffic areas, for example, healthcare, building management, sewerage plants, transportation, etc. are responsible for their employees Health and Safety (H&S).

#coronavirus #hongkong #2019nCOV #airbourne #kelcroft #novelcoronavirus #SARS #drainage

Contingency Planning

Management and managers should have contingency plans ready, just in case. However, the on-going public health emergency, recently labelled by WHO as a COVID19 pandemic, has exposed that organisations and employers are not prepared for change or business interruption. Even when organisations had some broad ideas, it was never formalised in a plan and never tested, only after the idea was tested was it revealed the idea did not work in practice.

In addition to the general confusion, caused by poor communications, random individuals post opinions and “advice” on social media, would you believe that an electrician is sending COVID19 pandemic advice!

In the context of the built environment, I am raising this issue because building operators, organisations and employers fail to plan for events that can be reasonably foreseen, such as fire. Organizing periodic fire drills to safely escape from a building in the event of a fire should be routine, but sadly its not.

Yet, there are countless tragedies every year, fatalities caused by a range of issues, locked fire escape doors trapping people inside buildings being one common issue. I have often been called to witness standby generator tests, which would not start! Therefore, in the event of an emergency those safety systems have no power!

COVID19 and Legionnaires Disease

It’s generally accepted that the number of Legionnaires Disease infections is under-reported, I predicted that the heightened public health surveillance for COVID19 would reveal an increasing number of Legionnaires Disease infections because both COVID19 and Legionella cause pneumonia.

Here in Hong Kong, there is an example that might illustrate the point, case details provided by CHP are very limited [link] nevertheless it is interesting to consider the case of a male who was admitted to a hospital on 4 Feb. 2020 [NOTE: that is the same date when five Legionnaires Disease outbreak cases residing in the nearby housing estates were reported ] he was diagnosed as pneumonia, treated and released on 19th February 2020. He didn’t recover and was admitted again on 24th February 2020, but this time Legionnaires Disease was the diagnosis.

ABOVE: Ironic that fire sand bucket was used to hold open the fire/smoke stop door

When to plan?

To be perfectly blunt, its too late to try planning your escape from fire while trying to exit from a burning building, a decent manager will have a plan and considered difficult questions, or force a plan to be created, before a disaster strikes.

COVID19 and Buildings – Tsing Yi

UPDATE

14 March 2020 – Another similar incident is reported at Heng Tai House, Fu Heng Estate, Tai Po [link]


RTHK reports [link] some apartments in Hong Mei House, a residential tower block located in Tsing Yi, Hong Kong have been evacuated overnight after another person was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus (covid19) living in the same building, 10 stories directly below a person already diagnosed with the infection.

And fearing a repeat of the SARS in Amoy Gardens Block E, the HKSAR Government swiftly reported that the drainage U traps are in “good condition”.

Notwithstanding, the condition of the U trap, not every building (see photo below) has U trap fitted.

In addition, we must also consider faulty vent pipes (refer to our photo below). Vent pipes are connected in parallel to the main sewer system, well they should be, therefore any broken, damaged or disconnected piping provides an equally risky conduit for droplets and pathogens to spread into homes.

As shown in this video clip below, if the bathroom is negatively pressurised, pathogens can be dragged into the bathroom contaminating surfaces, risky infection of the occupants.

#coronavirus #hongkong #2019nCOV #airbourne #kelcroft #novelcoronavirus #SARS #drainage

Novel Coronavirus and SARS

A novel coronavirus emerged from Wuhan City, China in December 2019 (2019-nCOV) and it is apparent that it shares many similarities with the 2003 SARS outbreak, the virus is transported inside water droplets (aerosols) from coughing and sneezing in the air and its also shed in fecal matter which in turn is aerosolized risking contamination of surfaces.

History ignored is destained to be repeated, the same engineering issues remain today creating panic in the Hong Kong community.

Back in 2003, Kelcroft’s John Herbert was one of the few engineers that dared to visit buildings during the SARS outbreak, to highlight buildings requiring urgent improvements. You might not worry about a disconnected vent pipe, until you understand that’s a transmission path for the virus into your home.

Like SARS, and Legionella (which is bacteria) the novel coronavirus can be transported in the air, it’s said to be airborne pathogen, protected inside a water droplet, and depending on the air temperature and humidity, it is thought to be able to carry its virus package over long distances, outside and inside home.

And with favourable environmental conditions, the virus remains viable for up to 5 days on hard surfaces. ( link to useful Singaporean government list of household disinfection products).

If you are interested, here is a link to download our free SARS 2003 report: http://www.kelcroft.com.hk/download/kelcroft-sars-report-may-2003.pdf

#sars #coronavirus #hongkong #2019-nCOV #airbourne #kelcroft #2003