John Markwalter, left, and Al Belbol, work for the Town of...

John Markwalter, left, and Al Belbol, work for the Town of Hempstead Department of Water. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

New York American Water is asking businesses and schools to flush their water systems to eliminate any liquid that may have laid dormant in pipes for months during the COVID-19 pandemic.

American Water and Hempstead Town officials on Wednesday said businesses and buildings that closed during the shutdown should flush toilets, pipes and run faucets from between two to 30 minutes to eliminate waterborne bacteria and sediment that may have accumulated in stagnant water.

“We are telling customers the water is very safe coming from our distribution center. Where it gets tricky is stagnant water in piping of large buildings and businesses we are advising to flush out pipes before reopening,” New York American Water president Lynda DiMenna said. “When water sits stagnant in pipes for a long period of time, that’s the potential for harmful material to grow or in old lead pipes, possible leaching of lead into the waters.”

The Nassau County water company serves communities, including Inwood, Valley Stream, the Five Towns, Lynbrook, Malverne, Oceanside, Roosevelt, Merrick, Bellmore, Wantagh, Seaford Levittown and Massapequa.

“While everyone is eager to get back to work and jump-start our economy again, the safety of our town’s residents and visitors is our foremost concern,” Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin said. “Skipping this guidance has the potential to make individuals sick and that is something that cannot happen, especially since it can be avoided by following these simple steps.”

Officials said businesses should run hot and cold water, and generally running a faucet until it turns cold or smells faintly of chlorine means fresh water is coming from the distribution center.

Water left in unused pipes could lead to leaching of metals in pipes and allow bacteria to form, such as legionella, which causes Legionnaires' disease.

Businesses and those who manage unoccupied buildings are advised to flush toilets at least twice, run faucets and showers for at least two minutes and run water through appliances, such as ice machines, and replace filters.

Flushing water is being advised for businesses on Long Island and throughout the country that are reemerging from the shutdown, DiMenna said.

The guidance follows EPA guidelines and the Nassau and Suffolk health departments.

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