Protect Your Buildings from Legionnaires' Disease!

2015-08-27 |

Everyone in New York City is on edge, and the nation is watching since the Legionnaires' Disease outbreak just a few weeks ago.  At least 12 people have died, and over 120 people have gotten sick from contracting the disease.  The questions being asked of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) experts are what is Legionnaires' Disease, and how did this occur?

There are no simple answers, but we can quickly look at a few discerning factors that may have contributed to the outbreak, which will help us know how to contain it and ensure that it does not happen again. Legionnaires' Disease is a form of atypical pneumonia caused by any type of Legionella bacteria.  It is a building related illness that is typically derived from a water source that becomes contaminated.  For contamination to be possible, certain conditions need to exist.  The conditions where the bacteria can thrive are areas which temperatures are between 77 and 113 degrees with optimal temperature at 95 degrees.  There also needs to be standing water.  Hot water tanks, cooling towers, and evaporative condensers of large air-conditioning systems are the most usual suspects. 

In order for the bacteria to infect a person, the water becomes aerosolized and is inhaled.  At that point in time, most symptoms show up in a person between 2 to 10 days before symptoms are noticed.  Dizziness, shortness of breath, and the feeling similar to that of the flu are some of the symptoms.  Many people feel better after just a few hours, while others become very sick.  Fever, blood in sputum, and gastrointestinal and neurological problems often occur as the disease progresses.  Treatment includes heavy doses of antibiotics.  If treatment is begun right away most people recover fairly quickly. However, the CDC reports that lung complications and death can occur to people who have contracted this disease.

Legionnaires' Disease is not to be taken lightly.  Aerosolized water is present in many facilities to help with thermal comfort.   Cooling towers are present in a great deal of commercial buildings, and if they are left untreated as a result of budget cuts or other reasons, the threat of contamination exists.  There are other areas of standing water in buildings that should also be considered.  Elevator shafts and basement water accumulation are just two situations that we see when surveying a property pertaining to IAQ.  Our focus is the air distribution system where debris can travel through to the occupied space.  As such, when water becomes contaminated, one possibility is that aerosolized water travels through the duct system into the occupied space potentially contaminating the occupants.

Regular maintenance of your cooling towers and mechanical systems are the most efficient way to fight the prospects of this unhealthy situation occurring in a facility.  It is important as a property owner and manager to have an effective IAQ program for your facility. You should be familiar with ASHRAE/ANSI Standard S180 and the NADCA Standards for HVAC Inspection, Maintenance, and Restoration, and the newly released ASHRAE/ANSI Standard 188-2015 Legionellosis: Risk Management for Building Water Systems. Consult with industry professionals like the team at Duct &Vent, and help yourself steer clear of the potential liability associated with property ownership and management.

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