NYC Adopts ASHRAE Legionella Standards

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By Chad Edmondson

New York City wasted no time adopting portions of the recently published Standard 188-2015, Legionellosis: Risk Management for Building Water Systems.  This is following the recent outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the South Bronx.  The outbreak was responsible for the deaths of 12 people and more than 120 confirmed cases of the illness. 

In mid-August the New York City Council adopted sections of the Standard which deal specifically with building surveying, new system start-up and seasonal shutdowns, general system maintenance, water treatment, disinfection plans, etc. 

The NYC health department has also ordered every building in the city with a cooling tower to evaluate and disinfect it within a specific timeframe.  Since mandatory testing began a few weeks ago, at least 20 cooling towers in NYC, including a school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, have tested positive for the Legionella bacteria.

A Rude Awakening to the Realities of Legionella

As we have discussed in previous blogs on Legionnaire’s disease, the Legionella bacteria is commonly found in the ground, in water, and even in tap water. It is not likely to become a health risk unless it begins to multiply and colonize – a lesson that some building owners in NYC (and other places throughout the US) have learned the hard way.  At least two lawsuits have been filed against the Opera House Hotel in the Bronx, identified as a source of this most recent outbreak.

While it has been a rude awakening for the nation’s highest populated city, ASHRAE Standard 188 committee members hope that this news will accelerate the acceptance of the standard elsewhere.

“Standard 188 was published just two short months ago,” ASHRAE President David Underwood said. “Although the circumstances surrounding its use are tragic, ASHRAE is grateful that the standard is available to set requirements to manage risk of this bacteria. We are hopeful other governments will follow the lead of the New York City Council to help safeguard public health.”

Underwood said ASHRAE will continue its work in getting the full standard adopted in New York City and in other locations.