Legionella, Standard 188 and You

John Pulte overseeing the lab at Earthwise Environmental.
John Pulte overseeing the lab at Earthwise Environmental.

On June 27, 2015, at the annual ASHRAE Conference, ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 188 was finally approved after numerous drafts and five rounds of public review, and now a new level of responsibility has shifted onto the shoulders of building and systems managers. The approved Standard 188 contains a basic strategy for reducing the risk of Legionellosis (Legionnaires’ disease and Pontiac Fever) associated with building water systems by implementing a plan. The Standard requires Building Owners to conduct an annual survey of each new and existing building to have and practice a Water Management Program (WMP) for the numerous building water systems typical of many 399 engineers’ sites. Protecting the potable and utility water systems from Legionella and other waterborne pathogens is truly a serious business. We took the opportunity to speak with Bob Miller and John Pulte, President and Senior Account Executive, respectively, of Earthwise Environmental, to discuss the implications of Standard 188, and some of the solutions available for minimizing the risk of Legionella in your water systems.

The good news is that compliance with Standard 188 isn’t likely to be too difficult for most conscientious chief engineers and building owners. “I would say that probably most of the 399 engineers, facility managers, and owners are already on the way to becoming compliant in the fact that they’re treating these systems for water-borne pathogens and adding biocides to cooling towers,” Miller maintains. What will need to change in the routine for many, though, will be documentation of procedure, looking at all possible water sources for the pathogen, and the actual documentation of WMP. But the new Standard is there to help with the process. “This standard organizes a very simple way of moving through the elements of what ASHRAE defines as a water management program.”

According to Miller, it’s not a difficult process, but one that involves a few important steps that are clearly defined in Standard 188. “First develop a team,” he says. “Then look at a diagram of the sites water systems; describe where the water goes in a facility. Analyze your building systems. Look for spots where water could aerosolize or mist and where this pathogen could be exposed to an occupant. Look at your population — who’s at risk? Of course, a nursing home or hospital will have a much more immuno-compromised patient profile than a commercial office building. But you would be surprised — commercial office buildings have fresh air intakes near cooling tower discharges, some have lobby water features, and places where people like to smoke a cigarette around the cooling tower, so there can be a risk of exposure.”

Miller goes on to say that developing a plan based on Standard 188 isn’t a particularly costly expense, and given that it not only minimizes the risk of hazardous pathogens like Legionella, but can also protect building owners from legal action, it’s a pretty important detail to stay on top of. “It’s something that, if I were a building owner, I would definitely have a WMP, because the litigation that surrounds this disease now is part of what’s driving this standard,” he explains.