If you are considering the current state of the water system in your building, you may have come across the term Legionella. This potentially deadly bacteria can be a threat to any freshwater system, including potable (drinkable) water, so it is important that you understand what sorts of environments Legionella thrives in and what you can do to prevent it from making visitors or residents sick.
Overview Of Legionella Bacteria
Legionella is a type of bacteria that is transmissible to humans via water droplets in the air. It causes Legionnaires’ disease and Pontiac fever; while Pontiac fever is a mild, flu-like illness that typically lasts less than a week, Legionnaires’ disease can be deadly. Legionnaires’ manifests as a severe lung infection (pneumonia), and up to 10% of the people who contract it may be unable to recover from the illness.
Legionella bacteria can cause severe sickness in humans, so it is important that you take control of your water system to prevent it. However, Legionella can be conquered even in areas where it normally thrives if you have a strategic plan of action.
Types Of Environments Where It Prospers
Legionella can grow in any freshwater source, so buildings that rely on fresh water to drink and to operate can be susceptible to an outbreak of this bacterium. However, pipes and equipment in disrepair or certain specific situations can encourage or even jumpstart Legionella growth.
Lack of maintenance is the key here. Legionella will not thrive even in these places where it normally proliferates if your systems are kept well maintained and you employ an effective Legionella management strategy.
One of the primary ways that Legionella thrive is by living in water that is neither too hot nor too cold. Hot tubs are a prime example; Legionella bacteria do well between 77 to 108 degrees Fahrenheit, but most hot tubs are maintained at between 100 and 104 degrees. This provides ample opportunity for Legionella to proliferate if a hot tub is not properly maintained. Similarly, any leg of a water system that is not properly temperature moderated may be at risk of harboring Legionella.
Cooling towers are the primary drivers behind many of the Legionella cases each year. Because cooling towers rely on evaporation and mist within the system to regulate temperature, they automatically produce water that is vaporized into the air, where it can be inhaled by humans. This is the method of infection for Legionella, which makes cooling towers particularly dangerous when it comes to the spread of the bacteria.
Additionally, cooling towers may be experiencing additional problems such as biofilms or corrosion that can provide further safe places for Legionella to live. Most local governments have regulations and an annual and regular inspection specifically to ensure that cooling towers in the area are free of Legionella and have a workable strategy for dealing with it.
Hot Water Tanks
Like hot tubs, hot water tanks can also pose a problem when it comes to Legionella. One commonly suggested method of lowering monthly bills is to turn the temperature of a water heater down so that the building uses less energy. However, this could bring the water into the danger zone, where Legionella are free to thrive. Keeping hot water hot is crucial in preventing the proliferation of this dangerous bacteria.
Large Plumbing Systems
Large water systems may be at an especially high risk of Legionella infestation for multiple reasons. A large system may have more problem areas, such as small cracks and leaks, that can introduce Legionella into the system by way of contaminated groundwater or soil from outside. Similarly, it is difficult to ensure that all of a large plumbing system is free of debris, corrosion, rust, sediment, and other issues that can provide a safe place for Legionella to live. In systems experiencing biofilms, the sticky film itself can keep the water cool and prevent chemicals like chlorine from reaching a section of water, which provides a safe haven for bacteria.
Work With A Legionella Expert
If you are considering how Legionella may be impacting your water system, it can be near impossible to properly assess your risk and current situation on your own. An experienced Legionella expert can examine your system and determine if your water is at risk from this quick-growing bacteria, as well as offer suggestions on the next steps that you should take in order to keep your water safe.
The skilled technicians at Legionella Compliance Solutions can help you develop a strategy to tackle Legionella that has already begun to proliferate, or we can work with you to create a plan well in advance of the first signs of Legionella. Reach out to schedule an appointment to meet with an expert who can offer personalized guidance based on your unique water system.