Legionella Standard Getting Traction

  • 2017-08-01

Owners’ Responsibilities are Challenging – Insurance Industry Reacts

The Background

In February of 2013, WCD first identified Legionella as an emerging environmental risk to the real estate community. This was predicated on an increase in cases and a new Standard for designers and building owners then proposed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (“ASHRAE”), and the American National Standards Institute (“ANSI”). The Standard, ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 188-2015, became effective in June, 2015 and has specific requirements for building owners. The Standard is now gaining momentum and is being aggressively addressed in the real estate and insurance communities.

This document has incorporated many of the previous guidelines from a variety of governmental and professional sources developed over the last decades.

In the past 10 years, the number of cases has indeed grown and Legionella illness and deaths have made, and continue to make national news.

On June 7, 2016, The Washington Post reported: “Cases of Legionnaires’ disease nearly quadrupled in the United States over a 15-year period, and almost all might have been prevented with the proper use of disinfectant, the right water temperature, and other measures, federal health officials said Tuesday. In the last year alone, about 5,000 Americans were diagnosed with this severe, sometimes fatal pneumonia, and more than 20 outbreaks were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

The article continues, “Large recent outbreaks in New York City and Flint, Michigan have brought attention to the disease and highlight the need to understand why the outbreaks occur and how best to prevent them, CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a briefing.”

As further evidence, in the summer of 2015, 128 people were infected and 16 deaths were attributable to the outbreak in NYC alone. This was the largest outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease ever recorded in NYC. Responding to the outbreak, the New York City Council and the Mayor’s office enacted Local Law 77 of 2015. Local Law 77 requires owners of cooling towers to register with the Department of Buildings (“DOB”) by September 17, 2015. The Law requires that towers are inspected, tested, cleaned, and disinfected. Owners and operators of cooling towers must annually certify to the DOB that their cooling towers are in compliance and that a maintenance program and plan have been developed and implemented. Statewide, including in New York City, owners of all cooling towers must also comply with SSC Part 4, which includes registration with and reporting to the State Department of Health.

The Problem

Legionellosis is comprised of two distinct illnesses caused by the Legionella bacterium, which is common throughout the built environment. The more severe variety causes a potentially severe pneumonia which is referred to as “Legionnaires’ disease,” originally identified in an outbreak at a Philadelphia hotel in 1976 which killed 34 hotel guests. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate approximately 15,000 LD cases yearly with a 10% fatality rate.  The lesser form of Legionella infection is termed “Pontiac fever,” usually with flu-like symptoms that resolve in a few days. The predominant source of Legionella exposure is building water system(s) but infection is not transmitted person to person. Instead, the bacterium must be aerosolized (i.e., mist from a cooling tower, spa, or shower head). People most susceptible are the elderly, heavy smokers, and/or persons with weakened immune systems (e.g., undergoing chemotherapy).

The Standard and Owners’ Responsibilities

There are specific compliance issues in the Standards set forth for Owners. The Standards state that building owners shall survey each existing building and any renovation, addition, or modification to an existing building and its water systems. The building owner shall conduct and document the compliance with these Standards at least once per year and any time renovations, additions, or modifications are made to the building.

Insurance and Risk Mitigation

Owners now have a higher industry standard-of-care against which they are judged in the event of a claim. Understanding the building owners’ and managers’ requirements is the first step in developing a Legionella Management Plan, procedures, and associated training to avoid an outbreak of the disease in one’s properties. In addition, Legionella is often grouped with microbiological, bacteria, and mold language. With the continued rise in mold-related insurance claims, Legionella is now a sensitive and relevant issue in property, pollution, and general liability insurance policies.

Definitions, inclusion as a contaminant or pollutant, and coverage descriptions in insurance policies are critical, whether the policy excludes the bacteria or defines the coverage. WCD is seeing more and more underwriters seeking site-specific mold and Legionella prevention plans be in place before coverage is priced or even considered or offered. We see this trend increasing as cases and associated claims increase, and the ASHRAE Standard is utilized as the industry standard.

WCD Can Help 

WCD has been responding to Legionella cases and claims for over 10 years, including cases involving fatalities. We have assisted our NYC clients in achieving compliance with the City Local Law 77. We have investigated buildings and tested water systems nationwide. We have prepared ASHRAE-compliant Water Management/Legionella Prevention Plans.

For assistance, please contact:

R. Christopher Spicer, CIH, CHMM, Principal

D. Joshua Cupriks, Certified Industrial Hygienist

Cal Spessard, J.D. Executive Vice President