For months, many businesses, buildings, and facilities have remained closed during the COVID-19 outbreak. The temporary shutdowns have likely resulted in a reduction of normal water use in the buildings, which can create dangerous conditions for returning occupants, as States are reopening their local economies. One microbial hazard businesses should consider when planning their reopening is Legionella.
Legionella bacteria causes Legionnaires’ disease, a serious type of pneumonia. It is found naturally in freshwater environments, but can grow and multiply in common, human-made water systems like hot tubs, spas, showerheads, decorative fountains and water features, large plumbing systems, and cooling towers (large air conditioning units that contain water and a fan for use as a building-wide centralized cooling system).1
Warm-water areas in and around existing water systems, like water expelled from cooling towers or vapors from a spa unit, are breading areas for Legionella growth. That risk increases when what would ordinarily be moving water becomes stagnant or standing. When water is stagnant, hot water temperatures can decrease to Legionella growth range (77 – 108 Degrees Fahrenheit). It can also result in low or undetectable levels of water disinfectant, like chlorine.2 Shutdowns due to COVID-19 are likely resulting in higher amounts of stagnant water, increasing the risk that Legionella bacteria are growing.
The United States Centers for Disease Control has published a list of 8 stepsbusiness and building owners should take to minimize Legionella risk before reopening.3 They include:
- Develop a water management program. Specific guidance on how to do so can be found on the CDC’s website and in their “Legionella Toolkit.”
- Properly maintain your water heater. Make sure that your water heater is set to at least 140 Degrees Fahrenheit, and determine if your manufacturer recommends draining your water heater after prolonged disuse.
- Flush your water system before use. By turning on all faucets, hoses, steamers, ice-machines, etc. you are ensuring that any residual Legionella bacteria in and around sink/shower faucets and other water exit/entry points are flushed clean.
- Clean all decorative water features like fountains or hanging wall displays.
- Clean your spas and pools. Ensure that the water has been disinfected properly or “shocked” with a disinfectant like chlorine or bromine.
- Clean your cooling towers. Ensure that their water basins are free of any standing water or visible bio-film or slime, and make sure to have properly shut down and restarted the machines.
- Clean all safety equipment like fire sprinkler systems, eye wash stations, and safety showers. You should be regularly flushing these systems in accordance with manufacturer guidelines.
- Ask questions. Consider contacting your local water utility to learn about any recent disruptions in your water supply. Regularly check your water’s temperature and pH levels.
Taking such steps not only keeps your occupants safe, but can reduce your exposure to liability in negligence cases involving the contraction of Legionnaires’ disease.
THE MATERIALS ON THIS WEBSITE HAVE BEEN PREPARED BY JULES ZACHER, P.C. FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND ARE NOT LEGAL ADVICE OR A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL COUNSEL. THIS INFORMATION IS NOT INTENDED TO CREATE, AND RECEIPT OF IT DOES NOT CONSTITUTE, AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP. YOU SHOULD NOT ACT UPON THIS INNFORMATION WITHOUT SEEKING PROFESSIONAL COUNSEL. WE CANNOT REPRESENT YOU UNTIL AND UNLESS WE CONDUCT WITH YOU AN ININTIAL INTAKE, ACCEPT YOUR CASE, AND THEN COMPLETE AN AGREEMENT OF REPRESENTATION SIGNED BY BOTH PARTIES.