Cooling Tower Inspections to See New Disclosure and Enforcement to Prevent Spread of Legionnaires’ Disease
Legislation Authored by Council Members Kallos and Yeger Passes City Council
New York, NY - New Yorkers can breathe easier as the heat season approaches. Cooling towers that are a breeding ground for Legionnaires’ Disease will finally have to report on their compliance with 90-day inspections meant to thwart the spread of the deadly disease.
More than 1,000 cooling towers (representing 20 percent) were out of compliance with 90-day inspections that must be conducted while towers are in operation, according to WNYC in June of 2018. In response, as reported by WNYC, Council Member Kallos authored Int. 1149-B of 2018, co-sponsored by Council Member Kalman Yeger, mandating that building owners receive electronic reminders and inspectors to file results within 5 business days of the inspection so that the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene DOHMH can engage in immediate enforcement and ensure that inspections are actually occurring.
Analysis of New York State DOH Registered Cooling Towers beginning August 2015 found 2,268 cooling towers that were last inspected in 2017 or prior, putting 44% of all towers out of compliance.
Previously, Council Member Kallos was a sponsor of Local Law 77 of 2015. In 2017, Kallos helped stop a Legionnaires’ Disease cluster that sickened 6 people and caused 1 death in his district from becoming an outbreak by asking DOHMH to order cleaning of every cooling tower that tested positive for Legionella regardless of whether it would later develop into Legionnaires’ Disease. Council Member Kallos represents a community with a particularly high concentration of cooling towers.
“When it is you, your aging parent, or child on the line, you want to know that every cooling tower is being inspected to catch Legionnaires’ before it can spread and kill anyone,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “I hope that reminding building owners coupled with immediate enforcement for failing to inspect every 90 days can prevent anyone else from getting Legionnaires’ Disease.”
“New Yorkers’ health is a priority for all of us. Regular inspection and maintenance of cooling towers is our front-line defense against legionnaires, stopping outbreaks before they occur. This legislation gives the agencies and the public another tool to ensure that state and local laws are being followed. I thank Council Member Ben Kallos for this legislation and his leadership on this very important issue,” said NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
“With proper maintenance and inspection of cooling towers, Legionnaires’ outbreaks are easily preventable. New York City law already requires regular inspection of cooling towers. Council Member Kallos’ common-sense law will require the disclosure of the resulting inspection reports. Importantly, the city will now – for the first time – be obligated to remind building owners to conduct their inspections, helping keep properties in compliance and preventing the outbreak of Legionnaires. I’m grateful to Council Member Kallos for his leadership on this significant health issue for New Yorkers,” said Council Member Kalman Yeger of Midwood, Borough Park, Bensonhurst.
Introduction 1149-B would require the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) to send owners and operators of cooling towers an electronic reminder 30 days prior to the filing deadline for annual certifications with a link to where these certifications can be submitted. This bill would also require cooling tower inspectors to report to DOHMH, within five days, when the 90-day inspections occur. DOHMH must make this data available on a city website and on Open Data. Finally, this bill would require building owners to make cooling tower inspection results available for public examination.
The current law requires owners or operators of cooling towers to conduct inspections every 90 days, however, the owners or operators are not required to report these findings to DOHMH unless the findings reveal the presence of the Legionella bacteria above a certain threshold. Further, the current law only requires that owners and operators of cooling towers file an annual certification with DOHMH that these inspections are occurring every 90 days.