How the SFPUC Water Quality Division’s Teamwork and Ingenuity Keep Employees Safer

The COVID-19 pandemic has created many opportunities for SFPUC staff to improvise and think out-of-the-box to complete their essential job duties. No story illustrates this more than the agency’s search for hand sanitizer.

Humble hand sanitizer has become a crucial piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the SFPUC’s workers who report to duty every day. Liberal and frequent use of hand sanitizer protects employees and their families from the spread of coronavirus. Because of its importance, hand sanitizer has become harder and harder to find.

SFPUC Millbrae Water Quality Laboratory Director Ken Lee had an inspiration: Why not try to make their own and solve the supply chain issues? Lee eventually turned to the World Health Organization and their recipe for noncommercial hand sanitizer. The Millbrae Lab had the equipment and the expertise to make the hand sanitizer. What they didn’t have, at least initially, was all of the ingredients.

Two of the four ingredients (alcohol and hydrogen peroxide) are well known disinfectants and therefore particularly hard to find. Matt Dobbs and the SFPUC Business Services team partnered with chemists at Millbrae Lab to look for alternative sources of supply outside of the SFPUC’s regular markets. They were successful in finding the necessary ingredients with culinary and herbal preparation suppliers.

The Water Quality lab staff designed their own label, affixed them to each bottle, and filled them all. This effort alone took one full day.

Once they had the necessary supplies, SFPUC lab staff started production. They did this on top of their regular job duties of continuous water quality testing at the lab. The next challenge was how to distribute it. The 10-liter jugs on hand were unwieldy. Lab staff were able to purchase 1,000 small spray bottles. The lab staff designed their own label, affixed them to each bottle, and filled them all. This effort alone took one full day.

The true beneficiaries of this effort are the SFPUC’s crews and essential workers. Distribution of the small bottles is handled directly to a team at their work sites, such as the Harry Tracy Treatment Plant, or through the SFPUC’s Department Operations Center.

Angela Cheung, SFPUC Director of Water Supply and Treatment had this to say about her colleagues, “The Water Quality division not only produced the hand sanitizer in bulk, but when they realized we didn’t have the dispensers for the liquid form of hand sanitizer, they procured and bottled the hand sanitizer in 3.4-oz bottles and delivered those to the Millbrae Warehouse just as our gel hand sanitizer supply was depleted. This is now my favorite hand sanitizer of all time. The label on the bottle also reminds me of the ingenuity and generosity of the WQD staff each and every time I use it.”

SFPUC team members that contributed to this effort included: Ken Lee, Matt Dobbs, Damien Reggio, Kai Chin, Lisa Mazuca, Megan Tran, Melanie Wong, Mike Giles, Patrick Warner, and William Horner.

A bottle of hand sanitizer made by the SFPUC’s Water Quality Division.