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New ANSI/ASHRAE Standard Issued to Guard Against Outbreaks of Legionnaires’ Disease

Posted: December 1, 2014

Consistent with statistics issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease continued to sweep the nation in 2015. During the summer, 12 people died and more than 100 became ill during an outbreak traced to a cooling tower on a recently renovated hotel in New York City. This fall, another dozen died at a Quincy, Illinois veterans’ home. The CDC estimates that the disease annually causes between 18,000 and 30,000 illnesses – approximately 10 percent of which are fatal.

Because Legionnaires’ disease is contracted from bacteria commonly present in man-made water systems and is transmitted by inhalation or aspiration of contaminated water droplets, when outbreaks occur, building owners and those in the construction and design industry frequently find themselves defending costly litigation claims.

On June 26, 2015, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) issued ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 188-2015 “Legionellosis: Risk Management for Building Water Systems.” This standard sets out a risk management approach for preventing Legionellosis in building water systems and is intended for use by building owners and managers, as well as those involved in the design, construction and maintenance of such systems.

Under the standard, owners must conduct an annual survey to assess the building’s water features and systems and determine if the building possesses one or more of the following risk characteristics associated with Legionnaires’ disease:

  • Multiple housing units with one or more centralized potable water systems
  • Over 10 stories high (including below grade)
  • Health care facility where stays exceed 24 hours
  • Occupants are at-risk (elderly and smokers)

If the building indicates at least one risk factor, the owner must develop a water management program, which includes assembling a program team, analyzing the water systems to determine where hazardous conditions may occur, and determining locations where control measures can be applied. Corrective actions, if bacteria are encountered, also must be included in the program, along with other measures.

The standard is being embraced by the industry. New York City and New York state have used the standard’s risk management approach and have imposed additional requirements, such as the registration and treatment of all cooling towers and mandatory testing for bacteria in certain facilities.

Where, as in New York, Standard 188 is adopted into laws and building codes it has the force of law. However, even if not formally made part of a code, when outbreaks occur, plaintiffs will likely argue that the standard sets best practices for their industry. As a result, knowledge of and adherence to the risk management precepts in ASHRAE Standard 188 are the best tactics to prevent Legionnaires’ disease claims.

If you have any questions about defense of Legionellosis claims and lawsuits, please contact Mr. Boehlert at 202.295.6617 or gboehlert@saul.com.