RCAP, Xylem, 120Water provide face masks to essential utility workers

The Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) announced in July it was sourcing and donating 40,000 N95 masks to frontline water operators in partnership with Xylem Watermark and 120Water. In August, Xylem donated an additional 65,000 which RCAP was able to coordinate with 120Water to distribute in response to continued spikes seen in rural communities. By November 2020, 105,000 masks had been distributed to utilities in 46 states, and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Of the requests, 88 percent came from communities with drinking water or wastewater systems serving populations of 3,300 or less. There are approximately 150,000 public water systems across the United States, and 97 percent of them serve communities of 10,000 or less – the majority of which provide services to 3,300 or fewer users.

“Rural and tribal water, wastewater and solid waste disposal systems face challenges unique from those of larger systems, and RCAP saw the need for protecting the safety and health of these frontline and essential workers,” said Nathan Ohle, RCAP CEO. “Through this partnership, we were able to offer direct deliveries of PPE, free of cost, to the communities who need it the most. In emergency situations, small communities are often left behind in recovery efforts, and along with Xylem Watermark and 120Water we wanted to ensure that operators stayed safe and healthy so that communities had the access to safe water and sanitation that all Americans deserve.”

RCAP, Xylem Watermark and 120Water began this program after seeing the unique challenges rural communities were facing in the wake of the coronavirus. In May 2020, RCAP surveyed rural and tribal water and wastewater systems it was working with to understand the impact of COVID-19 on these small systems. More than 43 percent of systems surveyed said they rely on one-full time operator or less to operate their system. Many systems rely on part-time staff or operators, or volunteers. Respondents expressed concern over the health of their operators in the maintenance of the system. The survey also specifically asked about access to equipment and other services, and access to PPE was identified as the top issue confronting these systems.

“The role of water in community health and resilience has grown during the pandemic,” said Joe Vesey, Xylem’s chief marketing officer and chair of Xylem Watermark. “This PPE initiative is one part of our efforts to support the health and safety of essential water operators as they serve their communities. A safe working environment is fundamental to providing safe water and sanitation to our communities. By combining our efforts with innovative partners like RCAP and 120Water, and with hard-working local utilities, we are one step closer to solving water in our communities.

”120Water donated the fulfillment and distribution of the masks, leveraging its modern sample management platform to package, ship and track the delivery of the PPE. “Frontline water utility workers not only ensure uninterrupted drinking and wastewater service, but some also played a key role in monitoring wastewater for the presence of COVID-19 in communities,” said Megan Glover, CEO of 120Water. “We are proud to work with these community heroes and to be able to deliver the PPE they need.”

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