State Adopts Regulations to Prevent Spread of Legionella Bacteria

State Adopts Regulations to Prevent Spread of Legionella Bacteria

PHOTO:  State Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, M.D. Photo Courtesy of Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor


With the death toll holding steady at 12, and more than 120 infected, city and state Health officials this week announced that emergency regulations have been adopted to prevent the spread of Legionella bacteria and protect New Yorkers from future outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease.

The statewide regulations, which Cuomo called “first of their kind,” take effect immediately.

“Cooling towers have been implicated in several outbreaks of Legionnaire’s Disease in recent years,” said state Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, M.D. “When they’re not properly maintained, these cooling towers can cause Legionella overgrowth that leads to Legionnaire’s disease. These new regulations will help prevent that and safeguard the health of all New Yorkers, especially those who are vulnerable to Legionella.”

The new code includes Definition and Registration: Any owner of a building with an existing cooling tower must register the tower with the state DOH within the next 30 days. Thereafter, all new cooling towers must be registered prior to initial operation. There is no cost to register a cooling tower with the state.

Culture Sample Testing and Tower Disinfection: Any owner of a building with a cooling tower must collect samples and obtain culture testing within the next 30 days. Thereafter, testing must be performed every 90 days, or in accordance with a maintenance program and plan obtained by the building owner. Immediate disinfection is required if culture sample testing demonstrates a need.

Maintenance Program and Plan: Any owner of a building with a cooling tower must obtain and implement a maintenance program and plan by March 1, 2016. The plan must include a schedule for routine sampling, as well as procedures for emergency testing and disinfection to destroy Legionella bacteria. Owners must maintain a copy of the plan on the premises where a cooling tower is located, and make it available immediately upon request.

Inspection and Certification: All cooling towers must be inspected within the next 30 days, and thereafter every 90 days. All cooling towers must be certified as complying with all regulatory requirements by Nov. 1, 2016, and thereafter annually by Nov. 1 of each year.

Electronic Registration and Reporting: Registration of cooling towers will be through a statewide electronic system. In addition to registration, all actions required by the new regulations must be reported to the electronic system within 10 days of such actions being taken.

Enforcement and Penalties: An officer, employee or agent of the state Health Department or local health department may enter onto any property to inspect the cooling tower for compliance with the requirements of the regulation. If an owner does not properly register, certify, inspect, clean or disinfect their cooling tower, the department or local health agency may determine that such condition constitutes legal action.

A violation of the regulations is subject to civil and criminal penalties. They are in effect for 90 days, at which point they will be adopted into permanent regulations. During the 90 day time period the regulations can be amended before they become permanent.

By Michael V. Cusenza


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