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Elliot Olsen is a prominent Legionnaires lawyer in the United States; he has regained millions for his clients. If you or a family member were sickened in New York City because of contaminated cooling towers, you might have cause to file a lawsuit. Please give Elliot a call (612) 337-6126 for a free consultation, or complete the following:
As Legionnaires’ disease illnesses mount in New York City, an investigation by WNYC News and the Gothamist revealed violations by almost half of the city’s cooling towers.
“As the Health Department issues violations to bring towers into compliance, many buildings with cooling towers are still failing to report the results of their inspections, leaving us to wonder if inspections are occurring at all,” NYC council member Ben Kallos told WNYC.
The 2015 law (Local Law 77), co-sponsored by Kallos and introduced by council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, was passed unanimously by the New York City Council in a 42-0 vote after a 2015 Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in which 16 people died and more than 130 were sickened in the south Bronx.
The cause of the outbreak, the deadliest in NYC history? A cooling tower at the Opera House Hotel in the Bronx.
Cooling towers: another outbreak
A current Legionnaires’ disease outbreak has killed one person and sickened 29 in the Upper Manhattan neighborhoods of Washington Heights and Hamilton Heights. It is the second major outbreak to hit Upper Manhattan this year; the first resulted in one death and 27 illnesses during the summertime.
The cause of the first outbreak was a cooling tower at the Sugar Hill Project in Harlem. The source of the current outbreak is under investigation.
Cooling towers: New York woes
Data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that New York state accounted for a disproportionate 37 percent of last year’s cases nationwide.
The discovery by WYNC and the Gothamist that building owners are openly disregarding the law was the impetus behind the introduction of four new bills to reform Local Law 77, considered the most stringent in the nation.
Cooling towers: requirements
Current laws require owners of cooling towers to comply with the following regulations:
- Register all existing cooling towers with the state of New York and DOB.
- Register new cooling towers with the state and DOB before starting operations.
- Affix a DOB registration number to each cooling tower.
- Test and inspect each cooling tower every 90 days.
- When replacing parts, use materials that are corrosion-resistant and block sunlight.
- Clean cooling towers at least twice a year.
- Install and main drift eliminators as specified.
- Perform daily, automatic chemical treatment of system water, and continuously recirculate water (unless otherwise justified).
- Perform routine manual monitoring of water temperature, pH, conductivity, and biocide concentration, unless this process is automated.
- Perform microbial monitoring, as well as weekly routine monitoring.
- If the tower was shut down, without water treatment and recirculation, for more than five days, it must be cleaned, drained and disinfected before being reused.
- Certify annually that a cooling tower was inspected, tested, cleaned, and disinfected as required.
- Keep records of activities onsite for three years.
- Notify the state and DOB if the tower is removed or taken out of use, and confirm that it was drained and sanitized.
- Develop and follow a Maintenance Program and Plan (MPP) in line with American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE 188-2015) Standard.
Cooling towers: 4 new bills
Last week, Kallos introduced bill 1149-2018, which would require the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) to send electronic reminders and pre-filled inspection forms to owners and operators of cooling towers. It also would stipulate that qualified inspectors must document and submit inspection results electronically to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH).
City Council members Mark Levine helped Kallos introduce bill 1158-2018, which would require the DOHMH commissioner, in consultation with the DOB, to hold informational sessions at least twice a year for building owners to discuss cooling tower maintenance, cleaning, and inspections. Owners would be required to post that information online.
Council member Ydanis Rodriguez, who said he was frustrated when he was unable to obtain data on inspections and violations for Washington Heights cooling towers over the summer, introduced bill 1164-2018. That law would require the DOHMH, in consultation with the DOB, to file an annual report to the City Council on the results of inspections, and also make such results available online.
The DOHMH has 70 inspectors conducting more than 5,000 inspections a year, armed with a list of 30 potential violations. They can levy fines from $500 to $2,000 per violation. Rodriguez seeks to increase the penalty for buildings that do not have cooling towers inspected regularly; he wants the maximum fine raised to $5,000.
The final bill, bill 1166-2018, was introduced by council member Rafael Salamanca, Jr. It would require the DOHMH, in consultation with the DOB, to conduct a year-long assessment of all potential determinants of Legionnaires’ disease in the city.
Public hearings for the bills will be conducted in November.
Cooling towers: What are they?
A cooling tower, which can be found in or on top of high-rise buildings or outside of commercial/industrial buildings, is designed to recirculate water to make the inside of a building cooler.
Cooling towers remove heat from a building or facility by spraying water down through the tower to exchange heat into the inside of a building, according to the CDC. The towers contain large amounts of water and are breeding grounds for Legionella bacteria if not properly disinfected and maintained.
Because water within the towers is heated via heat exchange, it becomes an ideal environment for heat-loving Legionella to grow.
When that bacteria is breathed in – in the form of microscopic droplets, generally mist or vapor – it can infect a person with Legionnaires’ disease. The bacteria are found primarily in human-made environments.
Cooling towers: disease info
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of lung infection that is also known as legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia. It is treatable with antibiotics, although if not diagnosed early, it can lead to severe complications. It cannot be passed from person to person.
Although Legionnaires’ disease primarily affects the lungs, it occasionally can cause infections in wounds and other parts of the body. It can lead to life-threatening complications, including respiratory failure, septic shock, and acute kidney failure.
The CDC estimates about 25,000 annual cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) in the United States. However, only 5,000 cases are reported because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms.
Additionally, about 10 percent of those who contract Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.