Legionnaires Outbreak in South Bronx Leads to Emergency Regulations

by Jillian Bernstein 16 Sep. 2015

In response to the recent outbreak of Legionnaires ’ disease in New York City, the New York Department of Health (DOH) passed emergency regulations to prevent the spread of the bacteria legionella. The new requirements apply to all owners of cooling towers in the state. The regulations include requirements on registration, testing, inspection, and certification of cooling towers. The regulations also include deadlines for when each of the required actions must be carried out. Additionally, all actions required by the emergency regulations must be reported using the electronic system available on the DOH website within 10 days of such actions being taken.

Legionnaires' disease is caused by a type of bacteria called Legionella. The Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment, usually in water. The bacteria grow best in warm water, like the kind found in hot tubs, cooling towers, hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, and decorative fountains that are not properly maintained. Legionnaires' disease can have symptoms similar to pneumonia (lung infection), therefore it can be hard to diagnose at first. Signs of Legionnaires' disease can include cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle aches, and headaches. These symptoms usually begin 2 to 10 days after being exposed to the bacteria.

Deadlines:

  • Registration: Owners of cooling towers must register existing cooling towers with the DOH by September 16, 2015.
  • Sample Testing and Tower Disinfection: Owners of cooling towers must collect and test samples from the cooling tower by September 16, 2015. If the tests show contamination or excessive bacteria, the cooling tower must be immediately disinfected.
  • Maintenance Program and Plan: Any owner of a building with a cooling tower must obtain and implement a maintenance program and plan by March 1, 2016. The plan must include a schedule for routine sampling and analysis, as well as a procedure for emergency sample collection.
  • Inspection and Certification: All cooling towers must be inspected by September 16, 2015 and receive certification of inspection, testing, cleaning, and disinfection.