Report provides road map to improve response to Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks and conserve water

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (March 9, 2020) – A new policy report, Electronic Registration Systems for Cooling Towers – Improving Public Health and Sustainability Outcomes, published by the Urban Sustainability Directors Network (USDN) proposes a standardized yet flexible template for cooling tower registries that are designed to improve health outcomes, address disparity in affected populations, and increase water and energy efficiency.

NSF Health Sciences LLC, an NSF International company, and GroveWare Technologies developed the report for USDN with workshop input from more than 20 federal, state, provincial, city health, environmental, sustainability, water and/or building agencies.

Cooling towers are the point where heat extracted from a building is dissipated to the atmosphere through an evaporative process. As such, they are a critical component of many cooling systems in commercial, industrial, health care, hospitality and residential facilities. There are more than 2 million cooling towers in the United States, making them more common than elevators, yet much less regulated, according to the report.

Poorly maintained cooling towers can disperse Legionella through contaminated water droplets that are created as part of the cooling process. Once inhaled, the bacteria can cause Legionnaires’ disease, an acute form of pneumonia, and the less severe Pontiac fever. According to a study published in April 2018 in Current Environmental Health Reports, cooling towers were implicated or suspected in the majority of Legionnaires’ disease outbreak-associated deaths examined during the study period between 2006-2017.

With Legionnaires’ disease at a record high, the report argues that cities, states and water utilities should create electronic cooling tower registration systems to improve surveillance and response to cases, as well as to prevent exposure to Legionella bacteria by encouraging proper maintenance of cooling towers.

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