Almost half of the city's cooling towers — big, boxy rooftop machines that regulate air conditioning systems and also have the potential to spread Legionnaires' Disease — are out of compliance with the law. Those were the findings of a WNYC/Gothamist investigation this summer that examined the 2015 law passed in the wake of the deadliest outbreak of Legionnaires' in New York City to date.
That report was the impetus for new bills introduced Wednesday in the City Council to reform the landmark law.
Owners of cooling towers are currently required to have them inspected quarterly and immediately have them cleaned if they show a certain amount of the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' Disease. Cooling tower owners then must submit an annual report documenting the inspections and cleanings.
The new law would require inspection results to be submitted to the city almost immediately after they're received. It would also require the city to send electronic reminders to cooling tower owners of upcoming dates.
"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," bill sponsor Councilman Ben Kallos said.
A separate law introduced to the Council Wednesday would better regulate water towers, the iconic cylindrical structures that adorn the city skyline. A separate investigation by the news website City & State earlier this year found many water towers are decrepit and can harbor dead birds and rats. The new law would allow health officials to make random inspections. It would also forbid water tower owners from cleaning their towers immediately before an inspection, which produces unreliable results. That provision would also apply to cooling tower inspections.
"Inspections of the water towers were actually happening after cleaning," Kallos said, "and of course they were passing with flying colors, despite reporting to the contrary that these water towers were in poor condition."
Public hearings for the bills will be held next month.