An assessment of, and response to, potential cross contamination routes due to defective appliance water trap seals in building drainage systems

Michael Gormley, J.A. Swaffield, P.A. Sleigh, C.J. Noakes

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    23 Citations (Scopus)


    The outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), centred on Southeast Asia in 2002 and 2003, sparked fears of an uncontrollable pandemic. The outbreak at one housing complex in Hong Kong resulted in a disproportionately large number of cases with 321people contracting the virus, resulting in 42 fatalities. This outbreak led to an investigation by World Health Organisation, which firmly laid the blame for the spread of the virus in the housing complex on defects in the building drainage and vent system. The mode of viral transmission
    was identified as due to airborne aerosolised particles from virus-laden excreta emanating from the drainage system. The aerosolised particles were allowed to enter the habitable space through empty water trap seals which are the main protection against such ingress in a building drainage and vent system. This research reports on the defective trap identification system developed to provide a means of testing the seal afforded by the water trap seal in buildings. This innovative sonar-like technology incorporates a means of identifying
    compromised water trap seals anywhere in a building in a repeatable, non-destructive manner. While the technology has been effectively validated by a combination of laboratory investigation, site testing and numerical simulation, the rationale for the need to monitor water trap seals is less obvious to professionals operating in this field. This article addresses this issue and presents such a rationale, identifying some of the harmful pathogens which could lead to cross-contamination from person to person via the building drainage system.
    Practical applications: The research carried out in this area has highlighted the lack of any real monitoring of water trap seal status in buildings and has put the issue firmly on the agenda for consideration by building owners, operators and regulators, for whom the building drainage and vent system has long been categorised as ‘fit and forget’. The inspiration for this study was the response to the SARS outbreak which began in 2002. The case to monitor this important seal is clearly made and whilst the predicted pandemic of the SARS virus failed to materialise on an extended time frame and the outbreak has largely been consigned to history, it should serve as a constant reminder to professionals in the
    industry that we ‘fit and forget’ at our peril.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbern/a
    Pages (from-to)203-222
    JournalBuilding Services Engineering Research and Technology
    Issue number2
    Early online date9 Sept 2011
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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