The outbreak appears to have originated from the cooling towers of a factory in Matosinhos. These were shut down in November 2020 (following detection of the bacteria by authorities) and case numbers have dropped significantly. The Public ministry has announced an investigation to confirm the cause of the outbreak.
In the UK, premises with cooling towers/evaporative condensers would be some of the first to be contacted by the HSE, should cases of Legionnaires’ disease be identified in the vicinity. It is also a requirement to register such devices with the local authority and has been since the introduction of The Notification of Cooling Towers and Evaporative Condensers Regulations (SI 2225), in November 1992.
Being able to demonstrate that you have a both, a suitable and sufficient Legionella risk assessment, and effective control measures in place could prove crucial, should the need arise.
The fact that cooling towers only populate a relatively small number of buildings within the UK, may give rise to the thought, ‘I don’t have cooling towers on my sites, so how does this concern me?’. It should however be noted that even a poorly risk assessed or managed domestic system, can also pose significant risks with regards to Legionella growth. The following are all conditions which will increase bacteria levels, including Legionella within systems:
- Re-circulated and/or large volumes of stored (in comparison to usage) water;
- Temperature in the system between 20°C - 45°C;
- System cleanliness; dirt, biofouling, deposits due to scale, sediment etc.; and
- Dead legs and other points of stagnation within the system.
Serving as a reminder of the potential dangers of Legionella and so the need for a suitable and sufficient Legionella risk assessment and effective management was the case of Andy Glegg, who sadly died after contracting Legionnaires’ disease in 2018 whilst staying at the Sentinel Healthcare's Fordingbridge Care Home in Hampshire. Lawyers for Mr Clegg’s family said, ‘Mr Glegg had been exposed to "vast quantities" of Legionella which was found on taps and the shower in his room’. The coroner concluded that Mr Clegg had contracted Legionellosis whilst at the home, and the company was subsequently fined £150,000 plus costs.
The current low occupancy in many buildings at the moment, coupled with ever evolving guidance regarding re-population, demonstrate now more than ever the need for effective control and planned maintenance measures to be reviewed and implemented, so as buildings, offices and staff alike are ready for a safe return, whenever that maybe.
If you need support with Legionella management in your buildings, we can help you, visit our Legionella services page for more information and get in touch.