In recent weeks, Legionnaire’s disease has received plenty of coverage in this newspaper and it became a subject of much debate on WLVL’s talk show because of an outbreak in eastern Niagara County that claimed 2 lives and sickened 7 others.
Much of the conversation has focused on Eastern Niagara Hospital and the finding of high concentrations of Legionella in the facility’s cooling tower, whether or not that was the actual cause of the outbreak.
Despite the hubbub, most managers of properties that have cooling towers – which are used for heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) in apartments, hospitals, dorms, and retail outlets and in industrial applications in many factories – are unaware that since the fall of last year, all cooling towers are supposed to have recurring inspections for the disease (rules that the Hospital has been following by the way).
This came on the heels of an August 2015 outbreak of Legionnaires’ in New York City. More than 100 people were sickened and a dozen killed by the atypical pneumonia that is caused by a specific type of bacteria that got its scientific name (Legionella) and common name from an infamous outbreak that killed 29 attendees of an American Legion convention in 1976.
Cooling towers can tend to be a sort of Quixotic windmill in this cause. The Center for Disease Control issued a study (that ironically also appeared in August of last year) that said most Legionnaires’ comes from bad or old plumbing, be it through faucets, drinking fountains or showers. Misted water from a hot shower is more likely to make you sick than the vapors coming from cooling towers. Despite that, the state trained its sights on large properties and their towers.
If those cooling tower owners were doing their job prior to the 2015 regulations, Legionnaires’ was already being addressed. Almost all introduce or have an outside contractor introduce biocides and other chemical agents to their cooling towers to prevent the growth of Legionella (which could harm residents or workers) and the build-up of algae and fungi (which will harm equipment and efficiency).
Governor Cuomo wanted to ensure those practices were being done so he required that all cooling towers be registered and inspected by September 17 of 2015. Most were not because most businesses were completely unaware of their obligations, so the expanded final rule was put into play this past July with this past September being the new primary deadline.
That extension didn’t help because most entities (especially small business) are still not in the know and a great majority remain uninspected. Only a few in the area did follow the original rules – places like Confer Plastics, GM, and the hospitals in Niagara County to name a few.
Because of that, the Niagara County Department of Health initiated an outreach program a few months ago to educate property owners on the rules and help follow through with institution. But, it’s a tough go because their lead person on this task has to drive around the county searching for unregistered cooling towers.
To satisfy the standards, cooling towers must be registered on the state’s online database indicating model, serial number, capacity, usage and more while providing a detailed history of maintenance. Then, you must have a licensed specialist conduct a culture to check for Legionnaire’s. This test must be done every 90 days thereafter in perpetuity. At that same time, property owners must conduct their own dip tests every 30 days to look for microbiological activity that might be out of the norm.
Then, managers must obtain and implement a maintenance program and plan by December 1, 2016. The plan must include a schedule for routine sampling, as well as procedures for emergency testing and disinfection to destroy Legionella bacteria. Owners must maintain a copy of the plan on the premises where a cooling tower is located, and make it available immediately upon request. The state’s rule also requires annual certification from an outside firm regarding the maintenance and cleaning of cooling towers by November 1 of every year.
If you have a cooling tower on your premises and haven’t yet registered or inspected it, you can find more information about the regulations on the state’s website at tinyurl.com/NYSLegion. Better yet, do yourself a favor and reach out to the Niagara County Department of Health’s assistant public health engineer Gregg Mistretta at 716.439.7453. He’s a good guy who will help you navigate these important and complex rules.
From the 07 November 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers