By now, COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, has become a household name. The global virus outbreak, dubbed a pandemic in early March, has spurred hundreds of thousands of people across the world to try to rationalize and make peace with an uncertain future. While more and more information becomes available with each passing day, there still lies some unpredictability with transmission.
Signs Of Trouble
On February 11th, 2020, an apartment building in Hong Kong was forced to partially evacuate after a concern that the coronavirus was possibly being spread through the building’s sewage pipes. Health officials first became concerned when two residents, who lived 10 floors apart but within the same vertical block, became infected with COVID-19. All residents within the vertical block across 30 floors were evicted because their toilet and vent pipes were all connected.
While many speculate the virus was spread through close human contact or surface contamination by an infected individual, after a thorough investigation of the building’s plumbing system, the virus could have been transmitted through an altered pipe located in one of the residents’ bathrooms.
How the Virus Could Spread Through Pipes
The evacuation of the apartment building in Hong Kong was a necessary precaution. While the virus is mainly spread through respiratory droplets or direct contact with an infected person, this instance prompted investigators to look into the possible transmission through sewage pipes and fecal matter. Hong Kong microbiologists speculated and shared with the press that the virus very well could be transmitted through sewer pipes if a pipe was improperly sealed. If the pipeline was sealed incorrectly, infected feces could be carried into the building’s ventilation system, potentially “blowing” the virus into residents’ bathrooms.
In order to understand how this all works, one must understand the basics of what goes on underneath your toilet. Plumbing fixtures all have a U-shaped pipe that prevents sewer gases from entering your home. This pipe allows waste and odors to safely escape. To work properly, this pipe, or trap, must contain water in its bend. Your trap connects to a soil pipe that washes waste down and away from your bathroom. The soil pipe must be connected to a vent pipe to allow sewer gases and odors to be safely carried away, usually through a roof vent. The vent pipe also ensures that wastewater keeps flowing freely.
In the event of the virus spreading through a building’s pipes, the trap would have to be empty of water, which would allow virus contaminated droplets to collect in the U-bend. When an extraction fan in a resident’s bathroom was turned on, this would force the contaminated air in the pipe through the ventilation system and into the resident’s bathroom. After intensive investigations on the apartment building in Hong Kong, health officials found that the pipes were not faulty and the U-bends were always filled with water, dispelling the rumor of contamination through the pipes.
While this is a rare instance, it can happen. Help mitigate the spread of harmful viruses and ensure your sewer pipes and plumbing system are in optimal shape with the expert services provided by Fosh Plumbing & Heating Inc. Our team of professionals make it their goal to always deliver the highest level of customer satisfaction on any job we take on. Contact us today to help with all your plumbing needs.