“There is a lot of science out there, and that science helps us to understand how to protect workers.”
To help protect the health and safety of wastewater operators during the coronavirus pandemic and into the future, Xylem has provided foundational funding to the Water Environment Federation (WEF) to create the new position of Chief Medical Officer. The first scientist to fill the post is Dr. Andrew Sanderson of Howard University.
As Chief Medical Officer, Sanderson will guide and assist WEF in providing reliable medical information to wastewater utility managers and workers, as well as conduct research and serve as a spokesperson on medical issues for the sector. He will be supported by a graduate student from Howard University, also funded by Xylem.
“As a medical officer, my primary goal is the safety and health of the water professionals and wastewater and biosolids workers who are exposing themselves to biologic hazards – one of which is COVID-19,” said Sanderson in a recent WEF Words on Water podcast.
“The fact is that there is a lot of science out there, and that science helps us to understand how to protect workers,” he said. “Part of my job as CMO will be to translate that science into plain language so that workers will feel confident in doing the important work that they are doing, but also know what symptoms to look for and what type of things to ask for in terms of personal protective equipment.”
WEF panel finds coronavirus risks low for wastewater workers
In April this year, WEF convened a blue-ribbon panel of 16 wastewater-sector experts. The panel worked to re-examine approaches to managing biological hazards and review the safety precautions necessary to protect workers and those around them during the coronavirus pandemic.
In August, the panel determined that occupational risk of COVID-19 infection for wastewater workers is low. The panel found that standard wastewater treatment processes de-activate the virus, but also suggested additional research is needed to increase understanding of hazards and protections for personnel.
“While new information continues to emerge on COVID-19, the important work of the WEF blue-ribbon panel should serve to reassure wastewater workers that they can protect their health by following the appropriate safety protocols and being strict about the use of personal protective equipment,” Sanderson said.