To ensure the protection of wastewater workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, the Water Environment Federation (WEF) is convening a blue-ribbon panel of experts to evaluate information on biological hazards and safety precautions.
The panel is comprised of a diverse array of experts involved in water operations, science, health and safety and will provide appropriate input to U.S. government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as the World Health Organization (WHO).
"The top priority of the Water Environment Federation is always to ensure the safety and health of the frontline people in the water workforce, who protect our communities not just during the coronavirus pandemic but every single day," said WEF President Jackie Jarrell. "In keeping with the WEF tradition of educational and technical excellence, the blue-ribbon panel will make certain that our information on hazards and safety and the guidance of organizations such as the WHO, CDC, OSHA, and EPA are based on the latest evidence and absolute best science."
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need for timely, reliable information on biological hazards from wastewater and appropriate protective practices for wastewater workers. "The WEF Manual of Practice, Safety, Health and Security in Wastewater Systems" includes a chapter that discusses types of hazards, how to prevent and treat infections, and which workers are at risk. The panel of experts will review the advice provided in the Manual of Practice and other WEF publications and guidance from federal agencies to determine if supplemental advice or recommendations are warranted to protect worker health and safety. The panel is expected to work quickly and present its initial findings within a few weeks.
The panel is chaired by Dr. Art Umble, who leads the Global Wastewater Sector for Stantec Consulting and previously managed a publicly owned water and wastewater utility. Dr. Umble also serves on the advisory council of the Water Research Foundation (WRF), the editorial board for the Water Environment Research (WER) journal, and university advisory boards for environmental engineering, and provides peer review for academic journals and collaborative research projects. Panel members represent a variety of academics, practitioners and policy-makers in disciplines from across the water sector, including public health, safety and security, utility management, collection systems, facility operations, municipal design, industrial, laboratory services, and microbiology.
The following are the panel members:
WEF's overall response to the COVID-19 pandemic has included providing the latest technical and scientific information to the water community, offering educational opportunities through digital programming, and communicating regularly about resources and assistance available to the sector. WEF maintains comprehensive information and resources related to COVID-19 at www.wef.org/coronavirus.