Facility Shutdowns Cause Increased Risk of Legionella

Legionella Risk Blog

The sudden facility shutdowns that occurred as a result of Covid-19 could create an ideal breeding ground for legionella and other harmful bacteria in the water systems of many buildings. Legionnaires’ Disease is a severe form of pneumonia that is caused when a person inhales legionella bacteria. When not treated promptly, Legionnaires’ disease can be fatal. This is important to discuss now as facilities begin to consider reopening. The water systems of many facilities have been sitting idle for weeks or months. If the proper steps are not taken to clean these systems, there could be grave consequences.

Usually, water systems have a low risk of harboring legionella because water is continuously running through the pipes. However, building closures have stopped this flow of water, and created stagnant or standing water inside these systems. Temperature changes caused by fluctuating Spring weather can also help the bacteria to multiply. If facilities are not proactive in eradicating the bacteria, people will be exposed to legionella when the water is turned back on. The bacteria will flow through the pipes to the point of use, and into contact with the users. 

People contract Legionnaires’ disease by breathing in mist from water that contains the legionella bacteria. This occurs most frequently through showerheads, sink faucets, hot tubs, decorative fountains and water features, drinking fountains, hot water tanks and heaters, and large plumbing systems. Infection can also occur when contaminated water accidentally enters your lungs in situations like when you choke while drinking.

Most large facilities like hospitals and major corporations have testing procedures and a treatment plan in place to prevent legionella growth. They may also have procedures to destroy the bacteria should growth occur. However, smaller facilities like fitness centers, retail stores, and smaller commercial buildings may not have a water management plan. They may not even know that their facilities could be at risk of exposing people to legionella when their water systems are turned back on.

If your facility does not have a comprehensive plan for addressing the risk of Legionnaires’ Disease, you may want to get your water tested by a water treatment company. 

The CDC recently updated its guidelines for safely reopening buildings after a prolonged shutdown. They recommend taking 8 steps before reopening. See the list below. Click the following link to read their full guidelines, and to view more information and resources regarding this issue: CDC Guidance for Building Water Systems.

  1. Develop a comprehensive water management program (WMP)
  2. Ensure your water heater is properly maintained and the temperature is correctly set
  3. Flush your water system
  4. Clean all decorative water features, such as fountains
  5. Ensure hot tubs/spas are safe for use
  6. Ensure cooling towers in air conditioning systems are clean and well-maintained
  7. Ensure safety equipment including fire sprinkler systems, eyewash stations, and safety showers are clean and well-maintained
  8. Maintain your water system

This article is designed to serve as an informative piece to make facility managers aware of a lesser known issue that can arise because of the coronavirus shutdown.

At Equiparts, we carry a variety of specialty fixtures like check stop valves, patient care application faucets, thermostatic mixing valves with integral by-pass, showerheads with auto-drain, UV point of use disinfectant systems, and other fixtures that can help decrease bacteria growth that happens within water systems. If you are interested in learning more about any of these items, give one of our sales reps a call at 800-442-6622 (M-F from 8:00 AM-4:00 PM EST) to learn more.

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