04 August 2015 | SPL News

THE BRONX — The city will require all cooling towers to be registered and inspected regularly for the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease following an outbreak in the South Bronx that has so far killed 7 people and sickened 86 others.

The city believes that the outbreak is linked to five cooling towers at Lincoln Hospital, Concourse Plaza, the Opera House Hotel, a Verizon office building and Streamline Plastic Co. where the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease was found. The outbreak began July 10.

"This is the largest outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that we are aware of in New York City," Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said at a press conference with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz first called for legislation requiring inspections of building cooling towers last week when the death toll was still at three.

... The mayor said he is currently working on with the City Council to draft the law, which will be introduced later this week.

The mayor also said no law regarding cooling towers was in place because there were no recommendations to have one from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Under the new law, there will be financial penalties for failing to register, test or decontaminate cooling towers where legionella is found. The city will also have the power to step in and clean a cooling tower and bill the landlord if they refuse to follow procedures.

"For too long the risk of Legionnaires was underestimated," de Blasio said.

Janet Stout, director of Special Pathogens Laboratory in Pittsburgh and an associate professor of research at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, has studied Legionnaires' disease for 30 years.

She said the United States lags other countries and cites such as Australia, England, the Netherlands and Spain when it comes to preventing outbreaks.

"It saddens me greatly every time these outbreaks occur because they are absolutely preventable," said Stout.

After 10 years, Stout said the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers approved a standard risk management framework to prevent the spread of Legionnaires' in building cooling systems.

But the recommendations did not include a standard for testing due to industry concerns, said Stout who was a voting member of the committee. Bassett said the city is consulting a team of scientists to help develop standards.

Quebec City, which had an outbreak of 180 cases and 13 deaths in 2012, now has some of the toughest Legionnaires' inspection standards around and requires monthly testing of cooling towers, said Stout.

"The rest of the world has really been much more proactive than the United States," Stout said. "That's why legislation is so important because people will respond and do the right thing if there are consequences."

DNAinfo/Jeff Mays | August 4, 2015 3:23pm