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New ASHRAE Standard 188 to Prevent Legionnaires' Disease

By Janet E. Stout and Garry R. Boehlert - February 2012 - Facilities Management


Two dreaded words no facility manager wants to hear: Legionnaires' disease. The mere mention evokes haunting images of the 1976 American Legion Convention in Philadelphia at which 220 became ill and 30 died. No one wants the stigma of Legionella bacteria associated with their building. Just one case of Legionnaires' disease can shine an unwanted spotlight on your building's water system and wreak havoc by creating negative publicity, disruptive emergency disinfection, damaged reputations, diminished property values, legal liability and potentially huge expense.

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released in August 2011, over the past 10 years, Legionnaires' disease cases have increased by 217 percent. That translates to 18,000 to 20,000 cases annually in the United States. Of those cases, 10 to 30 percent were fatal.

What's more, according to published research, up to 70 percent of all building water systems are contaminated with Legionella, the bacteria that cause Legionnaires' disease - a serious but preventable form of pneumonia, as well as Pontiac Fever, a flu-like illness, which recently sickened more than 200 people as a result of the widely reported outbreak at the Playboy mansion. Together, these diseases are called Legionellosis.

Occupants in your buildings can become ill when they ingest or inhale water or aerosols contaminated with Legionella. In a health care setting, it can also be transmitted through respiratory devices. Although anyone at any age can contract Legionellosis, the people most at risk are smokers, the elderly, and individuals with impaired immune systems.

Legionella guidelines have been around for years, but currently there is no consensus on best industry practices to follow for prevention and control of Legionellosis. Making matters worse many recommendations in existing guidelines are backed by little or no scientific evidence. Some of these ineffective practices are labor-intensive, costing facility managers wasted time and money.

To respond to this growing threat to public health, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. (ASHRAE) will release ASHRAE Standard 188: Prevention of Legionellosis Associated with Building Water Systems in summer 2012. The new standard will require that facility managers implement stronger safeguards through pro-active risk assessment and risk management practices.

ASHRAE 188, written by engineering, microbiology, disease prevention and water treatment experts, provides a comprehensive set of practices that facility managers can follow to help prevent Legionellosis. The standard specifies uniform practices for risk assessment and management. It covers potable water systems; cooling towers and evaporative condensers; whirlpool spas; decorative fountains; other water features; and aerosol-generating air coolers, humidifiers, and washers.





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