If you own a cooling tower, you may have already heard of the term Legionella. This water-borne bacterium is present in freshwater and can cause serious illness or even death in humans who are exposed to airborne water droplets containing the microbes. It is important that as you consider your water treatment plan for your cooling tower, you understand what Legionella is and how it can impact how you use water.
What Is Legionella Bacteria?
Legionella is a type of gram-negative bacteria that can cause a number of illnesses in humans. It is present in both freshwater and soil that has been in contact with contaminated water. While outbreaks of this bacteria can occur in any water source or system, one of the most common places that outbreaks begin is poorly maintained cooling towers.
How Does Legionella Bacteria Spread?
Legionella bacteria spreads primarily through the air in water droplets. Water that has turned into tiny water droplets or mist through a number of processes, from heating to expulsion through objects such as a showerhead, continue to carry Legionella in the droplets. When these droplets are inhaled by humans deep into the lungs, the Legionella can spread throughout the body and begin to cause illness in as little as 24 hours from the first contact.
Health Issues Caused By Legionella Bacteria
Legionella bacteria are responsible for multiple health conditions. While many people may come into contact with Legionella and never know it, illnesses caused by these bacteria can become serious quickly. Of those affected, as many as 10% may experience fatal complications as a result of exposure to Legionella.
Lung Infection & Pneumonia
The Legionella bacteria includes L. pneumophila, and as the name suggests, it can cause pneumonia-like symptoms and lung infections. This can present as difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing, or headaches.
Perhaps the most common illness associated with Legionella bacteria is Legionnaires’ disease. Legionnaires’ is a particularly severe lung infection that can prove fatal in some people, especially those already predisposed to have severe reactions to Legionella. Current and former smokers, those with a weakened immune system, people with preexisting lung conditions such as COPD, and those taking immunosuppressant medications are at a higher risk of severe reactions to Legionella bacteria.
Legionnaires’ disease presents with muscle aches, cough, shortness of breath, fever, and headaches, but it is notable in its gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea. This differentiates it from the common flu. It can be treated with certain antibiotics, but seeking medical attention quickly is crucial, as on average, one in ten people who have serious complications with Legionnaires’ disease will die from it.
Another illness that the Legionella bacteria can cause is Pontiac fever. It is differentiated from Legionnaires’ disease because it can present with diarrhea and gastrointestinal distress; in many ways, Pontiac fever has similar symptoms to the flu, but is not pneumonia. One can expect muscle aches and a fever. Unlike Legionnaires’ disease, Pontiac fever does not cause a lung infection, so it is rarely accompanied by breathing symptoms such as shortness of breath.
Symptoms of Pontiac fever can begin within hours of exposure to the Legionella bacteria, and they can last up to a week. Some people lose weight after a bout of Pontiac fever because it may come with loss of appetite.
Ensure Your Cooling Tower Water Is Legionella Compliant
If you operate a cooling tower, relying on a plan of action so that your water does not contain harmful Legionella is critical, not only for the health and safety of the people who work near your tower and your tenants, but also to ensure that you are abiding by governmental regulations on Legionella in your water. The government mandates that the risk of Legionella bacteria turning to mist and impacting humans in the area is mitigated for all cooling towers; your local regulations will inform you of what is expected in your area.
Speak To The Legionella Experts At Tower Water
Whether you are unsure of what your Legionella situation looks like in your cooling tower or you are certain that you have Legionella, working with a skilled water treatment professional is crucial. The experts at Tower Water set the standard in water treatment and would be happy to review your system and offer personalized guidance on how to address the risk of Legionella in your cooling towers. Reach out to them by phone directly at 212-518-6475 or toll free at 888-539-1559.
A Legionella expert can also help you to develop a robust treatment plan that will reduce your future risk of Legionella and lay down a strategy for what to do if your system is compromised due to issues like a water main break or new construction. Successful water treatment to remove Legionella will ensure that your water is safe, reduce the risk of environmental contamination, and keep you in line with governmental regulations so that you can avoid fines and other penalties as a result of the water in your cooling tower.