Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene Emergency Preparedness

Access to safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and hygiene are critical for protecting public health. Complex emergencies and outbreaks associated with drinking water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) can be caused by pathogens, chemicals, toxins, natural disasters, or infrastructure failure. Although the U.S. has one of the safest water supply systems, there are still an estimated 240,000 water main breaks each year, resulting in loss of service and drinking water advisories. WASH-associated contamination, outbreaks, and emergencies have the potential to cause adverse health effects, including:

  • Gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses;
  • Chronic diseases, such as cancer; and
  • Neurological disorders.

Complex WASH emergencies trigger emergency responses because of their potential for causing community‐wide outbreaks and disruption. These incidents are expected to increase with changing climate and aging infrastructure. Local health departments are at the forefront of preparing for and responding to these events, in addition to coordinating with water suppliers, building managers, emergency management personnel, and community organizations.

Through COVID-19 and Beyond: The Roles of National & Local Wastewater Surveillance Systems (August 2022)

Wastewater testing for SARS-CoV-2 is an innovative tool to support local public health agencies and government officials in detecting the presence of the virus in a community, tracking new variants of the virus, and serving as an early warning system for changes in COVID-19 burden in a community. However, wastewater surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 is still a relatively new and rapid evolving tool. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention presented on the National Wastewater Surveillance System and three local health departments shared their experiences and lessons learned establishing and strengthening their wastewater surveillance systems at the local level. Access the webinar materials below:

Managing Water Risk in the "New Normal" (September 2021)

As many buildings experienced low- or no-occupancy during the COVID-19 pandemic, stagnant or slow-moving water created conditions to increase the risk of waterborne disease pathogens, such as Legionella bacteria. During this webinar hosted by the NACCHO, speakers from the CDC provided information about waterborne disease pathogens associated with building water systems, highlighting Legionella. Nalco Water, an Ecolab Company, additionally shared strategies and recommendations for managing Legionella risk.

PFAS in Drinking Water: What Local Health Departments Need to Know (August 2021)

During this webinar co-hosted by NACCHO and the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Center for Scientific Evidence in Public Issues (EPI Center), panelists provided an introduction to PFAS in drinking water, including the public health significance and an overview of current regulations, as well as strategies for communicating PFAS contamination with the public. Local health officials from Kent County Health Department in Grand Rapids, MI also joined the webinar to share their experience with addressing PFAS contamination in their community.

Hygiene-Related Behaviors during the COVID-19 Pandemic Among U.S. Populations: A Review (February 2021)

A range of hygiene-related behaviors have been promoted as part of the COVID-19 pandemic response. This includes frequent handwashing, frequent use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and frequent cleaning and disinfection of surfaces. To help understand who is engaging in these behaviors and what influences their decisions to engage in these behaviors, researchers in the Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch of the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases at the CDC have engaged in a range of quantitative and qualitative studies. This webinar described some of these findings. As a result of the presentation, participants were able to learn about potential strategies to increase engagement in hygiene-related behaviors.

WASH During COVID-19: Guidance for Local Jurisdictions (June 2020)

NACCHO, in collaboration with the CDC, held a webinar addressing concerns regarding the current COVID-19 pandemic, and how local health departments (LHDs) can ensure safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) to protect human health. Read about the main takeaways.

For any questions or concerns, contact the Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene team at [email protected].

Public Health Preparedness Program

Deise Galan

Senior Program Analyst, Public Health Preparedness

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Environmental Health Program

Rebecca Rainey

Program Analyst, Environmental Health

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