As many offices and other large buildings begin to reopen following months of being unoccupied during the state's stay-at-home order, New Jersey American Water is reminding building owners, operators and managers to take part in proper flushing procedures to keep its water clean and safe.

Matt Csik, director of water quality and environmental compliance for New Jersey American Water, said when water sits in the internal pipes of a building without use for a long time, lead from those pipes can flake into the water. Sitting water can also allow dangerous bacteria such as legionella to grow and enter the water.

Building managers need to flush the water that's been sitting in those internal pipes so fresher water comes through.

To do that, Csik said they need to run each cold-water tap in the building for at least two minutes. Once someone notices a temperature change or a chlorine smell, that's a good assurance that they're pooling fresh water from the system all the way to the tap.

Csik said if building owners don't properly flush all the pipes, they could expose people to levels of lead that has entered the water from the internal pipes of the building. It also can create a problem where bacteria has grown in the pipes. That can create water droplets that people can inhale and become sick.

Ideally, if a building owner knows the tap that is the furthest from where the water enters the building from the pipes, start with that tap and flush it until the chlorine smell or the temperature change indicates fresh water is flowing through the system. Then work back to where the water enters the building, flushing each and every tap.

He said it's also a good idea to flush showers, letting them run for a few minutes, and to flush toilets at least two times.

Another thing people need to be careful about is ice makers and refrigerators that have water dispensers. Csik said building managers need to make sure they make follow the owners manuals to make sure they are properly flushed before people use them.

Csik said this kind of problem with pipes can happen under any circumstances if a building is sitting for a long period of time without use. But with so many buildings shut for a long time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so many businesses are now reopening months later. It's even more important now that proper flushing protocols be taken.

"We're just really reminding our customers to make sure they're protecting anybody who could consume the water from those buildings," said Csik.

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