Legionnaires' Outbreak Spurs New Legislation for Cooling Tower Maintenance
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOH) recently announced that a cooling tower in a South Bronx hotel was the source of a deadly Legionnaires’ disease outbreak that began on July 10. Laboratory tests determined that the Legionella strain found in the hotel’s cooling tower matched the strain found in patients.
With this information, and the lack of new cases with Legionnaires’ disease symptoms after Aug. 3, officials were able to declare the outbreak officially over. According to city data, as of the declaration, 12 people in the Bronx had died in the outbreak, and there have been 119 reported individuals with the disease. All of the deceased individuals were adults with underlying medical conditions.
What Is Legionnaires’ Disease?
Legionnaires’ disease is caused by a type of bacterium called Legionella. The bacterium is named after a 1976 outbreak, when many people who went to a Philadelphia convention of the American Legion suffered from this disease, a type of pneumonia or lung infection.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the bacteria that causes the disease is found naturally in the environment, usually in warm water. That makes hot tubs, large plumbing systems, decorative fountains, hot water tanks, and—as was the case in the Bronx—cooling towers common places for it to originate. It does not seem to grow in window air conditioners.
People get Legionnaires’ disease when they breathe in a mist or vapor containing the bacteria. One example might be from breathing in droplets sprayed from a hot tub that has not been properly cleaned and disinfected. The bacteria are not spread from one person to another.
Those who get the disease typically come down with a fever, chills, and a cough. Most recover, but between 5 and 30 percent of those who get the disease die, according to the CDC. An estimated 8,000 to 18,000 hospitalized cases of Legionnaires’ occur each year in the United States.
In response to the unprecedented outbreak, the de Blasio administration, New York City Council, and Governor Cuomo collaborated closely on a policy to ensure consistency in regulation in New York City and across the state. On Aug. 18, Mayor de Blasio signed into law Intro. 866, in relation to the regulation of cooling towers.
The legislation requires the registration of all cooling towers, annual certification, quarterly inspection, and reporting of increased microbes to the DOH. The legislation also mandates the disinfection of cooling towers with levels of microbes that pose potential health risks. Violations of registry, certification, and inspection requirements are liable for civil penalties up to $10,000. And failure to disinfect towers with increased microbes is classified as a misdemeanor, punishable with fines up to $25,000.
The stringent and continuing inspection requirements reflect the fact that the bacterium may appear despite owner diligence. The South Bronx hotel with the contaminated cooling tower had opened two years ago after a multimillion-dollar renovation of a historic theater building. According to a statement released by the hotel, the cooling system was two years old with the most up-to-date technology available. Hotel officials had previously said that the tower was cleaned by an in-house engineering department on a regular basis, following industry guidelines.
The legislation took effect immediately, and building owners have 30 days or no later than Sept. 17 to register their cooling towers.
Cooling Tower Registration Requirements
As defined in the Administrative Code of the City of New York Section 28-317.2, “the term ‘cooling tower’ means a cooling tower, evaporative condenser, or fluid cooler that is part of a recirculated water system incorporated into a building’s cooling, industrial process, refrigeration, or energy production system.” If your building utilizes cooling towers, fluid coolers, and evaporative condensers to regulate the temperatures in your building, you must register the equipment with the Department of Buildings (DOB). A failure to abide by certain reporting requirements can result in DOB enforcement action including the issuance of violations with associated monetary penalties. As a result of the new law, owners must comply with the following mandatory requirements:
> Registration of New and Existing Equipment
- Register existing cooling towers, fluid coolers, and evaporative condensers with the DOB within 30 days of the law’s enactment. Owners may visit https://a810-efiling.nyc.gov/eRenewal/coolingTower_loginER.jsp to enroll in the cooling tower registration portal. Once enrolled, each registrant may report multiple towers or locations.
- Register new cooling towers, fluid coolers, and evaporative condensers with the DOB prior to initial operation.
> Certification of Existing Equipment and Discontinuance of Use
- Annually certify to the DOB that cooling towers, fluid coolers, and evaporative condensers have been inspected, tested, and remediated in accordance with the DOH regulations, and that a maintenance program and plan has been developed and implemented.
- Notify the DOB within 30 days of removing or permanently discontinuing cooling towers, fluid coolers, and evaporative condensers with a statement that the cooling tower was cleaned and sanitized in compliance with DOH requirements.
Vendor Information on Inspecting and Disinfecting Cooling Towers
You may need to hire environmental consultants with demonstrated experience performing disinfection using current industry standard protocols including the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard 188P and Cooling Technology Institute Guidelines WTB-148.
The following is a list of vendors that can assist with the process. The list is not exhaustive. Owners are encouraged to inquire as to the vendor’s licenses, permits, prior experience in environmental remediation, customer references, and any and all matters of concern to you as a building owner. You may also find additional qualified vendors by searching the Internet using terms such as “cooling tower maintenance in New York City,” or “HVAC repair and maintenance, New York City.”
Acqua Treat Ltd.
Active Environmental Technologies
Phone: 856-298-2555 (24/7)
Phone: 718-478-5555 (24/7)
American Pipe and Tank
Phone: 212-736-6618 (24/7)
August Mechanical Corp
Barclay Water Management
Phone: 617-599-9442 (24/7)
Phone: 212-273-3702 (24/7)
Cascade Water Services, Inc.
Phone: 1-800-247-3973 (24/7)
Phone: 1-800-631-0990 x305
Phone: 215-962-2844; 1-800-424-9300 (24/7)
Clarity Water Technology LLC
Phone: 845-589-0580; 201-697-8097 (24/7)
Phone: 718-361-6666 (24/7)
Phone: 212-431-0696 (24/7)
Phone: 718-267-6900; 718-594-6472 (24/7)
The Metro Group Inc.
Millenium Mechanical Services, Inc.
Phone: 212-643-7600 (24/7)
OCS Chemical Engineering
PAL Environmental Safety
Phone: 718-349-0900 (24/7)
Sentry Water Management Corporation
Phone: 973-616-9000; 973-495-4233 (24/7)
Phone: 781-915-7720; 1-866-246-6789 (24/7)
Tower Water Management
Phone: 1- 866-663-7633; 973-358-4250 (24/7); 516-368-1526 (24/7)