NYS Cooling Tower Regs Go into Effect to Reduce Legionella Infections
On July 6, 2016, the New York State Department of Health’s final regulations applicable to all owners of buildings with cooling towers went into effect. The new regulations grew out of emergency regulations the Department adopted last summer when 138 residents of the South Bronx fell ill with legionellosis, and 16 people died. The source of the South Bronx outbreak was determined to be a cooling tower. Cooling towers are part of a recirculated water system incorporated into a building’s cooling, industrial, refrigeration, or energy production system.
Legionella occurs naturally in the environment, usually in water. If cooling towers are not operated and maintained properly, bacteria such as Legionella can grow in the water and be dispersed into the air. People can get legionellosis when they breathe in mist containing the bacteria.
Cooling towers are a potential source of Legionella and were not regulated by the state prior to August 2015. The regulations require that cooling towers be registered, inspected, and tested for Legionella. Designed to reduce the likelihood of another outbreak of legionellosis and other diseases caused by the legionella bacterium, the new regulations supersede the emergency regulations promulgated last year.
Defining ‘Cooling Towers’
The state regulations define a cooling tower as a cooling tower, evaporative condenser, fluid cooler, or other wet cooling device that is capable of aerosolizing water, and that is part of, or contains, a recirculated water system and is incorporated into a building’s cooling process. Cooling towers are often part of a building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system.
State Regulation Highlights
Under the new regulations, owners of cooling towers must:
- Register cooling towers in a statewide electronic system. New towers must be registered prior to initial operation and all tower registrations must be updated in the system whenever ownership changes.
- Inspect cooling towers prior to seasonal start-up, following maintenance, and at intervals no greater than 90 days while in use. The purpose of the inspection is to check for deficiencies or problems.
- Have an updated maintenance program and plan by Sept. 1, 2016, that includes a schedule for routine bacteriological culture sampling, routine Legionella culture sampling and analysis, and immediate Legionella culture sampling and analysis under specific conditions.
- Conduct Legionella culture sampling and analysis within two weeks after start-up for seasonal towers or within two weeks of start-up following maintenance for year-round towers and at intervals not to be greater than 90 days thereafter. Legionella culture sampling and analysis is required where NYS Department of Health or a local health department determines that one or more cases of legionellosis is or may be associated with a cooling tower. Bacterial culture sampling and analysis must be conducted at intervals not to exceed 30 days while the cooling tower is in use.
- Notify the local health department within 24 hours of getting a Legionella culture sample result exceeding 1,000 colony-forming units (CFU) per milliliter (mL).
- Use only pesticide applicators or technicians certified by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to apply biocides for disinfection.
- Certify by Nov. 1 each year that a cooling tower has a maintenance plan, that it has been followed, and that all requirements of the regulation have been met.
Overlap of State and City Requirements
The state and city regulations related to cooling towers overlap in many areas. The city’s requirements are found in Local Law 77 of 2015. Local Law 77 requires registration, inspection, cleaning, disinfection, and testing of all New York City cooling towers. Local Law 77 also requires building owners to annually certify that they are in compliance with the law.
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) also created new rules to implement Local Law 77. The new rules are Chapter 8 of Title 24 of the Rules of the City of New York. The rules require building owners to create routine and long-term maintenance procedures for their cooling towers and for owners to register their towers with the city.
The following are important points to keep in mind for complying with both state and city regulations:
Reporting. The state and city have different reporting requirements. Whether you have to notify the state, city, or both depends on the test results. The state’s rule requires you to report each date that you collect Legionella bacteria in your tower. For each date, you must report the results of your sampling and the date of any action you take to remediate the condition.
The city’s Chapter 8 rules require you to notify DOHMH within 24 hours about Legionella bacteria results only if you find more than 1,000 CFU/mL (colony-forming units of Legionella bacteria per milliliter).
You can notify the city or state by using the online reporting website for that agency. Neither the state’s nor the city’s rules require that a building owner directly notify tenants about any Legionella sampling or the results of sampling.
“Qualified” personnel. The state and city both require that certain activities be done by qualified personnel. “Qualified” varies by the type of activity:
> Disinfection and/or cleaning with biocides. New York City and State both require that any use of biocides (that is, disinfecting chemicals) be done by a commercial pesticide applicator, a pesticide technician certified in accordance with the requirements of New York State’s Pesticides Regulations, or a pesticide apprentice under the supervision of a certified applicator. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) provides a list of registered pesticide businesses in Category 7G (“Cooling Towers”) who are qualified to perform the disinfection process.
Cleaning activities that don’t use any of the chemicals described above, such as basic scrubbing or power washing, don’t need to be performed by a person qualified to apply pesticides.
> Compliance inspections and certification. New York City and State require that compliance inspections and annual certification of maintenance and operation be performed by a New York State-licensed and registered professional engineer; a certified industrial hygienist; a certified water technologist with training and experience developing maintenance plans and performing inspections in accordance with current standard industry protocols including, but not limited to, ANSI/ASHRAE 188-2015; or an environmental consultant with at least two years of operational experience in water management planning and operation.
> Maintenance plan development. New York City requires that the development and sign-off of the maintenance plan be completed by a person with the same qualifications as those for compliance inspections and certification, above.
Maintenance plans. Both New York State and New York City require owners to develop and start using a cooling tower system maintenance program and plan in line with the ASHRAE 188-2015 standard. New York State and City both require that the plan be based on section 7.2 of the ASHRAE 188-2015 standard, while the city requires that the plan also be based on sections 5 and 6 of that standard.
The ASHRAE standard has its own general requirements for creating a maintenance plan, and the city rules have additional minimum requirements. Each plan should reflect the conditions and complexity of the cooling tower system while meeting both sets of minimum requirements (ASHRAE and city).
Note that neither the city nor state require all maintenance activities to be done by a vendor. As long as the person performing the work is qualified, he or she can be part of your building’s in-house facilities management team.