It was on June 26, just two months ago, that ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 188-2015, Legionellosis: Risk Management for Building Water Systems was released. Less than three weeks later, there was an outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease in New York City that left 12 dead and more than 100 infected. Part of the outbreak did trace back to a hotel and there was a cooling tower connection and that quickly got the attention of government officials in New York. New York City Council adopted legislation that requires adherence to part of ASHRAE’s newly published standard and the state Health Department enacted emergency regulations to combat Legionnaires’ disease—requiring building owners to register and test their cooling towers within 30 days. According to an article in the New York Daily News, the emergency regulations, crafted jointly by city and state health officials, also require additional inspections every 90 days and immediate disinfection once a culture sample tests positive for the Legionella bacteria.
While this health emergency had just one hotel connection, all area hotels were affected and the story is just one more reminder of how prone hotels can be to Legionella bacteria—not only in cooling towers but in many other locations on the property.
I spoke with W.E. (Bill) Pearson II, CWT, V.P. Consulting & Technical Services, Southeastern Laboratories, Inc. this past week and he told me that Legionnaires’ Disease is more pervasive than one would expect. The Centers for Disease Control says there are from 8,000 to 10,000 cases of Legionnaires’ Disease each year in the United States. “That number is considered the tip of the iceberg,” Pearson says. “Most cases go unreported. The experts pretty much agree there are many more cases.”
Impacts Those with Compromised Health
Legionnaires’ Disease is, in essence, bacterial pneumonia, Pearson adds. The United States has 600,000 bacterial pneumonia cases every year. It is impossible to know exactly how many of those cases are due to Legionella bacteria. Most people just get the flu but those with compromised immunity systems have a much more difficult time. The 12 who died in New York had compromised systems.
I have written about non-toxic cooling tower treatment systems before. Be sure to check out that article. According to Pearson, cooling towers are not the No. 1 source of Legionella bacteria; it is just that they have the potential to affect more people at one time. “Most cases come from potable water,” Pearson says. “We find it in our natural water and it makes it into man-built systems. The problem comes when it is aerolized. It has got to get into your lungs to cause a problem.” Several years ago a lobby fountain at a Chicago hotel was the source of bacteria that led to three dying from Legionnaires’ Disease. Water storage tanks, toilet cisterns, hot tubs and swimming pools, showerheads, air-conditioning humidifiers and other systems can harbor the Legionella bacteria. The more complex a plumbing system is, the greater the risk. Hotels 10 stories or higher are especially vulnerable.
ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 188-2015, Legionellosis: Risk Management for Building Water Systems, which took 10 years to develop and release, provides a framework for preventing and addressing Legionellosis. Specific requirements in the standard include:
• Minimum Legionellosis risk management requirements for buildings and their associated potable and non-potable water systems.
• Establishment by building owners of a Program Team and (in turn) a Water Management Program for which they are responsible in order to comply with the standard.
• Provision of specific and detailed requirements for what Legionellosis control strategies must accomplish and how they are to be documented—but, does not provide (or place restrictions on) what specific strategies are to be used or applied.
Mandatory Testing Not Part of Standard
A Program Team can be comprised of just one person, or any number greater than one. Building size will dictate team size. “The team has a responsibility to do an analysis and look for risk factors that can be associated with Legionnaires’ Disease,” Pearson says. “The team doing the analysis has to come up with a water management program.” Pearson added that the standard does not require testing for Legionella but he expects testing to become more routine in light of recent events.
In the case of New York City’s City Council, the part of the standard it adopted is Section 7.2 and sections 5 and 6, Pearson says. Legislation addresses registration and inspection of cooling towers and requires owners to create and file a plan to maintain equipment.
Ten years is a long time to wait for a standard but the release of ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 188-2015, Legionellosis: Risk Management for Building Water Systems is helping to bring more attention to a health issue that is not going to go away. It is too bad some had to die and get sick in order to push building managers and owners, as well as government officials, into crisis mode.