WWETT Spotlight: Q&A With WHO's Dr. Adrianus Vlugman, Part 3

WWETT Spotlight: Q&A With WHO's Dr. Adrianus Vlugman, Part 3

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TPO magazine recently interviewed Dr. Adrianus Vlugman, a featured speaker at this year’s Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transportation (WWETT) Show, which will be held Feb. 23-26 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. Vlugman is a senior advisor on water, sanitation and environmental health at the World Health Organization, and on Feb. 26, he will speak about the transfer of communicable disease in water and wastewater. Here, he offers a glimpse into his upcoming presentation.

We’ll be posting a Q&A with Dr. Vlugman every day this week, so check back often.

TPO: For those who handle wastewater, how would you characterize the risk of pathogen exposure? Do you see a need to improve workers' protection?

Dr. Vlugman: By nature of their work, operators at wastewater treatment plants have increased potential to come in contact with these pathogens, especially where the wastewater is turbulent and agitated at the grit chamber, aerators and rotors where splashes and aerosols exist.

Reports indicate this occupational group is at greater risk for gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses and skin disorders than their counterparts with other occupations. Some studies indicate an increased chance of acquiring occupational Hepatitis A.

We should realize there is a difference between risk and chance. Risk is not only the probability of getting a disease, but the combination of the chance of becoming infected plus the effects of that illness on your wellbeing and business — lost working days, reduced performance, loss of revenue and disability-adjusted life years (DALY).

When I bet $100 at the roulette table in Las Vegas on No. 13, I have a 1 in 37 chance of winning. Although the probability to lose $100 is 97 percent (36 out of 37), which is very high, the risk to my wellbeing is actually very small because I would be able to continue living comfortably after the loss. However, if I gambled my whole estate on No. 13, I would be destitute after the loss, and the risk would thus be enormous. Betting on any other number, even betting on the right number, would not have reduced this risk.

Thus, to reduce the effects of risk of disease for wastewater operators, we can reduce the possibility of exposure to pathogens and reduce the affect of disease on the body. Several measures can be taken:

  • Good engineering and designs to reduce foam, splashing and aerosolization, and good ventilation in grit chambers, bar screens and sludge areas.
  • Operators can avoid possible contact with sewage, droplets, splashes and aerosols by using appropriate personal protective equipment, especially to protect broken skin and mucous membranes — eyes, nose, mouth.
  • Some diseases can be prevented by vaccination, so certain vaccinations are recommended for workers in wastewater treatment plants. Also, being healthy improves the natural immunity of the body to fight disease and thus the extent and severity of the symptoms.
  • And of course increasing awareness and training in these aspects are important.

Interested in hearing more from Dr. Vlugman? Then attend the WWETT Show from Feb. 23-26 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. For more information on registration, speakers, education opportunities and more, visit www.wwettshow.com.


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