Legionnaires’ Disease Cluster in Flushing (NY)

by Tina Jaycox

Legionnaires’ Disease is a type of pneumonia caused by bacteria-laden mist. Legionella bacteria is a naturally occurring bacteria commonly found in soils, reservoirs, rivers, and streams. Although there are many forms of Legionella bacteria, the main focus of health officials is on Legionella Pneumophila. This bacteria can magnify to dangerous concentrations in untreated (or under-treated) plumbing, heating, and cooling systems. The most common source (by far) of Legionnaires Disease is cooling towers. Other potential sources include showers, atomizers, decorative fountains, pools, fountains, spas, and whirlpools. It is occasionally found in the plumbing systems of buildings.

Most people exposed to contaminated mists will not get sick. A relative few will be sickened with non-pneumonia, flu-like symptoms that resolve themselves (Pontiac Fever). As with most environmental exposures, elderly and/or immunosuppressed individuals face the greatest risk of serious ailments due to exposure (i.e. Legionnaires Disease).

Diligent inspection and maintenance including occasional testing of systems can prevent elevated levels of bacteria. A number of chemical treatments, including chlorination, are recognized for controlling Legionella. Heating and/or cooling water also works but is typically a more expensive and short-lived solution.

Most building maintenance professionals are familiar with the proper protocols to prevent a buildup of bacteria in water systems. Standards have been updated, outlining a water management plan as detailed in ANSI-ASHRAE 188-2015.

Hillmann Consulting, LLC has a team of dedicated professionals experienced in Legionella sampling and our in-house laboratory is certified by the CDC Elite Program and accredited by NY ELAP to perform legionella analysis. Please feel free to reach out to us with questions or service requests.

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ATTENTION NYC RESIDENTIAL & COMMERCIAL BUSINESS OWNERS: The New York City Commissioner’s Cooling Towers and Health Commissioner Order (updated 8/11/15) applies to both residential and commercial buildings with a cooling tower. The Order requires building owners to hire vendors or environmental consultants with knowledge and experience performing evaluation and disinfection using ASHRAE Standard 188P and Cooling Technology Institute Guidelines WTB-148.