Organigram didn’t regularly clean cooling towers linked to 2019 legionnaires’ outbreak

A newly released report by New Brunswick Public Health says Organigram had no regular cleaning of cooling towers that were the source of a 2019 legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Moncton.

The 60-page document, which doesn’t name the cannabis grower, examined the outbreak that infected 15 people with the severe form of pneumonia. It says the company’s facility had two new cooling towers in 2019 that didn’t have a chemical treatment system activated.

“Additionally, upon further review of their operations and maintenance, many elements that would be considered best practice were not identified,” says the report released to CBC this month following a right to information request.

“Regular cleaning and disinfection were not scheduled, and there was no documented water safety or maintenance plan.”

It also said testing was using a method “not necessarily well correlated” to detecting legionella bacteria.

The internal report led to New Brunswick passing legislation this spring imposing a cooling tower registry and testing and maintenance rules to reduce the chances of future outbreaks. Health Minister Dorothy Shephard referred to some of the findings when introducing the legislation for second reading.

Cooling towers are mechanical equipment that can be part of a building’s heating and cooling system. They use water evaporation to remove heat and release it into the atmosphere.

If legionella bacteria is present in the water, it can be aerosolized and spread over several kilometres by the wind. Those who inhale water droplets with the bacteria may then contract the illness. It doesn’t spread person-to-person.

Organigram in 2020 issued a statement saying it “regrets” what occurred.

The company would not provide an interview.

“As a matter of policy we don’t comment on matters related to an ongoing litigation,” Alisha Fernandes, Organigram’s senior manager of communications, said in an email to CBC.

A dozen separate lawsuits were filed against the company alleging it was negligent. Eleven were quietly ended by consent of both sides in 2021.

The company has yet to file a statement of defence in a twelfth case which is still ongoing, according to the court records website.

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