Symposium Ties Plumbing to SARS Outbreak

Special to CONTRACTOR LOS ANGELES More than 100 plumbing, public health and building professionals from seven countries attended the International SARS Symposium Feb. 11 and 12 at the Los Angeles Airport Hilton. The symposium, co-sponsored by the World Plumbing Council and International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials, focused on the link between Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and

Special to CONTRACTOR

LOS ANGELES — More than 100 plumbing, public health and building professionals from seven countries attended the International SARS Symposium Feb. 11 and 12 at the Los Angeles Airport Hilton.

The symposium, co-sponsored by the World Plumbing Council and International Association of Plumbing & Mechanical Officials, focused on the link between Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and plumbing system design. Ten presentations and subsequent discussions centered on how the SARS virus escaped from a faulty plumbing system in March 2003 in the Amoy Gardens apartment complex in Hong Kong.

To date the Amoy Gardens is the only known incidence of the SARS virus being transmitted via a faulty plumbing system. The Hong Kong outbreak affected 329 people and caused 42 deaths. The economic impact of SARS was felt worldwide.

“The goal of this symposium was to draw international awareness to the idea that infectious disease can escape from a plumbing system,” said Russ Chaney, executive director of the IAPMO Group. “Ensuring public health in buildings demands an integrated effort in the overall design process by the architect and plumbing, mechanical and electrical engineers. This team approach extends to training and certifying competent installers and inspectors, manufacturing products that comply with consensus standards and codes, and code enforcement by plumbing and building inspectors.”

An international panel is writing a consensus statement, which will be distributed to symposium attendees this spring. Once the statement is finalized, it will be forwarded to the World Health Organization.

Providing a first draft of the consensus statement were symposium moderators: Michael Frost, director of Michael Frost & Associates, an Australian design firm; John Smartt, head of plumbing and refrigeration at the Dublin Institute of Technology’s School of Construction in Ireland; and Bob Miodonski, publisher and editorial director of CONTRACTOR.

To open the symposium, World Plumbing Council Chairman Stuart Henry suggested that the plumbing industry should consider water conservation measures, including fixtures that do not rely on water for flushing. He also emphasized the importance of training in developing countries to reduce the spread of not only SARS but also a number of other diseases.

Charles Watson, professor of public health and executive dean of health sciences at Curtin University of Technology in Australia, noted in his presentation that now is the right time for the plumbing industry to put forward its credentials as a major player in the control of infectious disease. He also advocated the control of water-borne diseases through a risk-management approach built on a quality framework, established codes of practice, certification of systems and code-compliant products.

Mark Sobsey, professor of Environmental Microbiology at the University of North Carolina, said, “The public health community needs to forge a better partnership with the plumbing industry to improve water and sanitation just as public health has done with environmental and sanitary engineering professionals and the water and waste management industry that provides water supply and sewage services at the community and regional levels.”

A detailed report by World Plumbing Council Vice Chairman Henry Hung supported the belief that SARS spread via Amoy Gardens’ inadequate plumbing system. Hung, a Hong Kong plumbing contractor, conducted extensive research on the affected apartment block.

His investigation established that the plumbing system had a number of defects, including a faulty floor drain that had lost its trap seal. Combined with other building design flaws and health issues, these shortcomings led to the spread of SARS. Hung’s report was presented at the symposium by Allen Inlow, IAPMO’s chief of field service operations, and emphasized the need for:

  • Good plumbing system design;
  • Compliance with plumbing and other building standards;
  • Maintaining a fully trained workforce;
  • Inspection and certification of plumbing and mechanical installations; and
  • Carrying out regular maintenance.

Subsequent speakers at the symposium noted that the outbreaks of SARS at the Amoy Gardens present the plumbing industry with the opportunity to develop innovative new plumbing products and computer-related technologies to predict, prevent or diagnose further incidences of SARS and other diseases.

“I’m not happy that SARS occurred, but I am happy that it has raised awareness of this issue of trap seal protection devices,” said Julius Ballanco of JB Engineering and Code Consulting, who presented a paper, “Floor Drain Trap Seal Protection.”

Participants of the symposium also discussed the importance of installing code-compliant products that perform the function for which they were designed. The importance of training and certifying installers and inspectors was addressed by a number of speakers including: contractors John Garvelink of Commercial Design Engineering in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Malcolm Sweet of Condaire in St. Louis; United Association representative Anne St. Eloi; and Mike Massey, executive director of the Piping Industry Progress and Education Trust Fund and executive vice president of the National Inspection Testing and Certification Corp.

For more information about the SARS outbreak in the Hong Kong apartment complex and the conclusions of the World Health Organization following its September 2003 meeting, visit www.iapmo.org. For more information about the World Plumbing Council, visit www. worldplumbing.org.