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.

September 16, 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 National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), speakers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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. In case you missed it, you can now view the webinar recording and slides.

For any questions or comments related to this webinar, email WASH@naccho.org.

WASH During COVID-19: Guidance for Local Jurisdictions

The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), held a webinar on June 24, 2020 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 WASH@naccho.org.

Environmental Health Program

Chelsea Gridley-Smith

Director of Environmental Health

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Public Health Preparedness Program

Deise Galan

Senior Program Analyst, Public Health Preparedness

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Environmental Health Program

Emily D'Angelo

Program Analyst

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