ARE YOUR TENANTS BREATHING IN BAD WATER?
When the day’s stress gets to you, taking a deep breath can help you find a sense of clarity again. However, if that breath is taken near an untreated hot tub or in a building with a dirty hot water tank, you could be inviting deadly bacteria into your body.
Legionella is a type of bacteria found naturally in freshwater. When in lakes or streams, the levels of Legionella are usually too low to be a health concern. However, when introduced to human-made building water systems, the bacteria can quickly flourish.
Legionella bacteria thrives in hot water, around 96 degrees F, and is often found in the following products:
- Hot water tanks and heaters
- Cooling towers
- Showerheads and sink faucets
- Hot tubs
- Decorative fountains
If Legionella bacteria is able to escape these water systems and enter the air, it can cause deadly outbreaks of disease.
The Danger of Legionella
After being infected with Legionella bacteria, individuals can develop a severe form of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ disease. Coughing, shortness of breath, high fever, and muscle pain are common symptoms. While Legionnaires’ disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics, older adults and those with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible.
Legionnaires’ disease cannot spread from person to person. In order to become infected with the disease, individuals have to breathe in small water droplets in the air that contain Legionella bacteria. This is why systems that put water into the air, like steam from a hot tub or mist from a cooling tower, are common sources of Legionnaires’ disease.
Thanks to strict safety guidelines, Legionnaires’ disease is relatively rare in the United States. However, if human-made water systems are not properly cleaned, Legionella bacteria can flourish. The Centers for Disease Control reports that 1 out of every 10 people who gets Legionnaires’ disease will die due to complications from the illness.
Not-so-Happiest Place on Earth
In 2017, there was an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in Anaheim, California. There were 22 known cases in this outbreak and at least one person died. Tests from the Orange County Health Care Agency suggested that the source of all 22 cases was likely a cooling tower in Disneyland. Though Disneyland denied responsibility, elevated levels of Legionella bacteria were found in two of the theme park’s cooling towers around the time of the outbreaks.
The towers were shut down and treated with chemicals to kill the bacteria. In March 2018, Cal-OSHA cited and fined Disneyland $33,000 for failing to properly clean the cooling equipment linked to the outbreak, which infected three Disneyland employees.
The Way to Keep Legionella From Infecting Your Water Supply
The key to preventing Legionnaires’ disease is to stop Legionella bacteria from growing in the first place. Proactively managing the risk of Legionella by implementing proper cleaning and maintenance of at-risk water systems is the first step. It’s also important to establish routine monitoring and testing for Legionella bacteria.
To reduce the risk of Legionella and Legionnaires’ disease, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has established minimum risk management requirements for building water systems. These can be found at ASHRAE.org.