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NAVFAC Keeps Water Safe for CDC Kids, Staff

A pair of gloved hands pours powder into a small vial of water at the back of a water fountain.
Alex Hoffer, Drinking and Wastewater Management Program manager for Naval Facilities Engineering Command at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, demonstrates how he performs a water test to make sure the water is free from contamination and has the correct amount of chlorine. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Julio Martinez Martinez)

07/24/20 09:30 AM

From NSA Bethesda Public Affairs

Responding to COVID-19, the Child Development Centers at Naval Support Activity Bethesda consolidated their operations and moved to one building early in the response. The move was designed to make it easier for a limited number of staff to take care of the children of essential workers.

Originally that building was CDC II. Due to temporary facility maintenance issues, however, they moved to CDC I and have remained there.

Now the CDC II facility issues have been resolved and the building has been prepped for shifting services back to the larger building to allow for more physical distancing flexibility.

Part of getting the building ready involved making sure the water was safe to drink. After months of being unused, the pipes needed to be flushed.

Alex Hoffer is the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Drinking and Wastewater Program manager for NSA Bethesda. He says the flushing process is important.

“If the water isn’t flushed,” he explains, “you can run into problems with the water sitting in the pipes too long, and it provides an opportunity for things to grow including coliform and legionella. Sitting there, it becomes stagnant water. ‘Flushing’ flushes out all the old water and brings new water with higher levels of chlorine which will kill the bacteria.”

To accomplish a full flush, Hoffer says he worked with his team and CDC leadership to enter the building and access the faucets.

“We go into the building, find a sink to run, run the faucets as much as you can - and flush the fire hydrant as well which flushes the mainline to provide fresh water to the building. Kitchen sink and janitor’s closets are good places. You run them 30 minutes to an hour. After that, we made sure it worked. The best way to do that is to test the chlorine. If the water sits too long the chlorine levels will drop; the purpose of flushing is to get fresh water in and raise the chlorine levels to help disinfect contaminates that could get into the water. So, we tested for chlorine [levels] and bacteria.”

Testing for chlorine is a quick process.

“You fill up a small vial and pour a powder into it,” Hoffer says, “and the water turns pink. Depending on how much chlorine there is, a light pink means less chlorine and more gives you a bright pink. You can put that water into a chlorine meter and it will give you the actual level. It usually ranges from .5 to 1. Anything over 1 is good, too. Building 87 [CDC II] was 1.1.”

The test for bacteria is also easy, but takes a couple of days.

“We use a cup. After we run the water for a certain amount of time, we fill it up to a certain level, seal it, and send it to a lab; after 24 hours they can tell whether there is or is not bacteria in the water,” says Hoffer.

As a result, he concluded, they were able to determine the water in the building was safe and ready for moving the kids back in once the CDC makes that decision.

Hoffer says he’s proud of doing this work.

“There’s a level of satisfaction from this job that what we’re doing is keeping everyone safe and healthy.”

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