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Legionella: Plumbing Focus of New Research


By Dan Hounsell Plumbing & Restrooms

When it comes to plumbing system maintenance, maintenance and engineering managers face a host of issues that also are top priorities for their organizations. The systems must conserve water during a time when numerous areas of the country face water shortages. They also must ensure that restrooms and other key facilities operations have a reliable flow of water to ensure the comfort of occupants and visitors.

Beyond these priorities, plumbing systems in institutional and commercial facilities increasingly are coming under scrutiny for another important reason: disease prevention. Specifically, managers need to be certain front-line technicians monitor and repair plumbing systems to prevent Legionnaire’s Disease.

Traditional water treatment efforts have focused on water leaving the treatment plant, but a large number of recent waterborne disease outbreaks in the United States can be traced to plumbing systems in institutional and commercial buildings. Legionnaire’s Disease outbreaks in New York City and toxic levels of lead in Flint, Mich., have raised questions about managing risks in aging water systems. Multiple studies assessing the risk of opportunistic pathogens in plumbing systems and the institutional infrastructure failures that led to the Flint water crisis will be discussed at the annual meeting of the Society for Risk Analysis, according to an article on News Medical, an online medical information source.

Click here to learn more about ASHRAE Standard 188 on Legionnaire’s Disease.

Legionellosis is the most common waterborne disease outbreak in the United States, and its incidence is increasing. The Legionella microbes grow well in warm, stagnant water, particularly in large distribution systems, such as those found in schools, hospitals and hotels Researchers from the Ohio State University will discuss the need to create a quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) model to better understand how certain conditions affect Legionella's ability to cause disease.

The researchers will evaluate infection rates for the microbe in normal conditions, in different genetic scenarios and under environmental stressors (such as chlorine treatment). Building this model will allow scientists to further understand how environmental conditions affect Legionella, which could help control exposure and consequently, prevent outbreaks.

Click here to learn more about myths surrounding Legionnaire’s Disease.

Legionella is just one of many opportunistic premise plumbing pathogens (OPPPs) lurking in water sources. Others include non-tuberculous Mycobacteria, pseudomonas aeruginosa, Naegleria spp., and Acanthamoeba spp. OPPPs don't often cause illness in healthy individuals, but are still a key cause of waterborne illness in the U.S. In their study, Reverse QMRA for Opportunistic Pathogens in Premise Plumbing, researchers from Drexel University discuss the benefits and feasibility of developing a risk-based strategy to determine water quality targets for buildings.

This Quick Read was submitted by Dan Hounsell, editor-in-chief of Facility Maintenance Decisions, dan.hounsell@tradepressmedia.com.

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