New legislation proposed for industrial cooling towers in New Brunswick

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick introduces cooling tower registry to reduce legionnaires’ disease risk' New Brunswick introduces cooling tower registry to reduce legionnaires’ disease risk
Three years after nine people became ill due to bacteria buildup in cooling towers on industrial buildings in Moncton, New Brunswick has introduced a bill making it mandatory to license and maintain those towers. Suzanne Lapointe reports – Mar 30, 2022

Three years after more than a dozen people fell ill from bacteria buildup in cooling towers in industrial buildings in Moncton, New Brunswick has introduced a bill mandating the licensing and maintenance of them.

They are used to cool industrial buildings using a fan and water. The potential bacteria buildup can lead to Legionnaire’s disease, a severe form of pneumonia that can be spread through mist dispersed by cooling towers.

Sixteen people caught the disease in 2019. Some were placed in medically-induced comas to help them recover, leading to an outcry for more regulation.

Read more: ‘Very surreal experience’: Legionnaires’ disease survivor calls for registry, maintenance laws

On Tuesday, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard introduced the bill saying, “We’ve said before that we needed to a regulatory process so that industry can know what’s expected of them. Right now they’ve been under a voluntary registry but with the new legislation it will be (mandatory) and it will be worked into building codes.”

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Sébastien Faucher, a microbiology professor at McGill University said in an interview on Wednesday that three things are necessary to reduce the spread of legionella, the bacteria that causes the illness.

“You need to know where the systems that can produce aerosols of legionella are. You need to make sure that the people that manage those systems are actually managing the systems, maintaining them, making sure they’re clean. And the last thing you need is monitoring.”

He said while those three points were addressed in the bill, several details needed to be worked out, like defining a threshold for action.

He gave cited the protocol in Quebec’s plan, saying if there are more than 10,000 legionella per millilitre, the operator needs to take action, like increasing disinfectant.

The New Brunswick bill indicates specific thresholds to trigger actions will be defined at a later date.

“How often do we monitor those towers. Is it once a month? Is it once a month? Once every two weeks? Maybe every week? There’s also a delay between when you get the samples and when you get the results. It could be about two weeks,” he said.

He thinks it will help prevent outbreaks, but not eradicate them.

Read more: Cannabis producer apologizes for 2019 outbreak of legionnaires’ disease in Moncton

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Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold has been asking for added precautions since the outbreak in 2019.

In a written statement provided to Global News on Wednesday afternoon, she said: “Any effort put in place to prevent Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks from occurring is an important step in protecting our citizens. Though we don’t have all of the details at this time, we look forward to working with the Province of New Brunswick on implementing the new regulation.”

Shephard said consultations are still ongoing to see who would oversee the regulations, but she expects Service NB to play a role.

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