By introducing water from external sources into our homes, we inevitably expose ourselves to potential risks and infections from microorganisms that sourced drinking water may contain. Legionella is one of these organisms which call for specific precautions, as it has caused serious outbreaks with fatal consequences in the past, and still represents a serious threat to many people today. It is a bacterium which can naturally be found in fresh water, and it is responsible for Legionnaires' Disease, a serious infection of the lungs which can lead to pneumonia and even death in the most severe cases. Apart from Legionnaires’ Disease, Legionella can also cause a less serious type of infection called Pontiac fever. A general term for all complications caused by this bacterium is legionellosis.
A person can get infected by breathing in tiny droplets (aerosol) of contaminated water or by accidental aspiration of water while drinking it. Once the bacterium gets into the respiratory system, it can quickly spread and cause symptoms related to pneumonia such as fever, chills, coughing and high temperature. Certain parts of the population including children, the elderly, people with compromised immune systems and chronic diseases are especially vulnerable, and a Legionella infection could, in their case, be extremely detrimental to their health, if not fatal. If the person responsible for the maintenance of a building’s water system doesn’t take the required steps to prevent Legionella exposure, he or she may suffer serious legal consequences.
Another advantage of proper water systems maintenance, in accordance with all the regulations, is that it will also minimize the risk of the presence of other harmful waterborne microorganisms, such as Pseudomonas.
As you probably already know, landlords are legally required to assess and control the risks of exposure to Legionella bacteria in water systems. In the case that a tenant were to contract Legionnaires’ disease from the water system in their home, the landlord may be held responsible and liable to prosecution under the Health and Safety at Work Act and would be required to provide the necessary proof in court that they had fulfilled their legal duty.
As many other types of bacteria, Legionella thrives in water, and while its concentration in the neutral environment normally isn’t too high, complex water distribution systems in buildings, composed of water tanks, numerous pipes, valves and fittings are very favorable for their proliferation. In our homes, these bacteria can be found in faucets, showers, hot tubs, heaters, air-conditioning units etc. Generally, any unit which can hold or carry water or produce aerosol (water mist) is a potential breeding ground for bacteria. Spa pools are found to carry the highest risk of infection. Warm water is especially beneficial to their growth, as temperatures between 20°C and 50°C make an ideal environment for them to multiply. Warm water can also make some disinfectants, such as chlorine, less effective.
Seeing how Legionella likes to grow in warm and wet places, it is not hard to understand why proper maintenance of water systems is crucial in the prevention of disease.
As there is currently no vaccine for Legionnaires’ Disease, the first and most important method of prevention is to maintain sanitized water systems. Therefore, duty holders - landlords, building managers and employers are advised, and also legally required to take the necessary precautions to make sure that their water systems are clean and safe for residents and tenants to use.
Sometimes not all the risk factors for Legionella growth and spread can be in your control. You can take significant steps in ensuring your own water system is clean and sanitized, but there can be some external factors, such as changes in water pressure, water stagnation, variations in disinfectant levels, changes in water temperature or construction work nearby which may negatively affect the state and quality of the water which reaches your property. The fact that there is a considerable number of external factors affecting drinking water is another reason why risk assessments should be performed periodically, so as to make sure there aren’t any unexpected negative effects on drinking water we use in our homes.
Considering how there are a variety of factors and water devices to be taken into account, risk assessments require competent professionals to go through all the necessary checks, properly inspect the structure and layout of your water systems and look for any additional risk factors that may contribute to harmful bacterial growth. It is important to measure the water temperature, look for the presence of organic or inorganic substances on which bacteria may feed, check the state and quality of equipment and so on, and this needs to be taken into consideration in order to ensure a thorough risk assessment. An experienced professional will check water-cooling systems, hot and cold water systems and aerosol producing places, as they are all susceptible.
A written scheme should be devised and implemented and records should be kept about all the measures taken and all the results found.
The final purpose of the entire process is to determine how big a risk, if any, there is of an individual being exposed. If after the assessment it is determined that there is a possibility of Legionella exposure, there are several things that you can do about it and our professional consultants would be glad to assist and advise you in taking the next steps.
With all the above mentioned in mind, professional consulting and assistance is the recommended option in the effort to combat the risks of Legionella contamination. Our staff can perform the necessary analyses and checks and determine whether any additional actions are required on your part. SAFE WATER IO LIMITED can guarantee the work is carried out to the required standard.
Besides risk assessment, we offer additional services which can further prevent health hazards. We recommend you check our Services page.