According to a recent article in The Guardian, a leaked report describes the serious threat of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in London. The leaked Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report, based on inspections of sites before the Olympic Games, indicates poor levels of compliance with health and safety standards in many locations. 73% of the sites inspected–cooling towers and evaporative condensers around the city close to Olympic venues and major travel hubs–received “enforcement notices or written/verbal advice”.
The report warns that an outbreak in London could lead to greater loss of life than the recent outbreak in Edinburgh, which killed three and sickened 100. According to the report, “…it could be speculated that scenarios are occurring where an outbreak could happen [in London]. This will have catastrophic consequences compared to Edinburgh given it is the area with the most footfall within the country.”
The HSE downplayed the warning described in the leaked report of “catastrophic consequences”, stating “This was a comment made by the inspector who drafted the report, based on speculation and personal opinion. It is not one that is backed up by research or evidence.”
Still, even after the HSE backed off of some of the statements in the leaked report, the idea of the potential for a large outbreak in London should not be ignored. In the wake of recent deadly outbreaks caused by cooling towers in major cities (Quebec City and Edinburgh), this HSE report serves as a reminder of the potential for more large scale outbreaks and the need to take preventative steps. Legionella spread by cooling towers has the ability to infect a large number of people. When a cooling tower is contaminated, it can infect people walking by on the street, and in high traffic areas in London, the danger is elevated and the magnitude of such an outbreak could be very large. It is important that building owners are vigilant in properly maintaining their cooling towers and that authorities properly penalize those who are not doing so.