Health Department Announces New Cooling Tower Academy to Educate Property Managers About its Comprehensive Cooling Tower Maintenance Regulations

Enacted in 2015, the City's cooling tower law is the most comprehensive law of its kind in the nation, requiring owners to test their cooling towers for Legionella bacteria on a quarterly basis

Free Cooling Tower Academy training sessions will start in 2018

initial two-hour informational session drew nearly 400 property managers and building operators interested in learning how to comply with the City’s cooling tower regulations

November 3, 2017 — The Health Department today announced it will begin offering free, two-hour trainings to help property managers and building operators comply with Local Law 77 of 2015, the City’s cooling tower maintenance law. When not properly maintained, cooling towers can support the growth of Legionella bacteria, creating a risk of Legionnaires’ disease. The Department’s free Cooling Tower Academy is meant to help building owners better understand the law’s requirements and reduce the risk for their communities. The first session, held in August and organized with property management company FirstService Residential, drew nearly 400 attendees. The Health Department will hold quarterly training sessions starting in 2018. In addition, property management organizations can coordinate training sessions for their members with the Health Department, so long as those sessions are free and open to the public. The course covers registration requirements, team development, plan development, record keeping, compliance strategies, and the inspection and enforcement process. To learn more about partnering with the Department to host an information session, email the Cooling Tower Academy at CTAcademy@health.nyc.gov with the subject line “Hosting Request.”

Last year, the Health Department conducted educational inspections to instruct building owners about proper maintenance and operation of cooling towers to avoid the spread of Legionella bacteria. The Department has routinely met with real estate companies, water treatment firms, and building management and hospital associations to review the requirements for managing risks from cooling towers. To promote compliance, the Department also distributed information about how to create a Management Program and Plan, how to build a cooling tower system team, and general FAQs. The Department has a dedicated support email where building owners and water treatment firms can submit questions and request guidance.

“A well-maintained cooling tower is critical to reducing the risk of Legionnaires’ disease,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “New York City has the nation’s most comprehensive cooling tower maintenance regulations, which is why education is such a critical component. We are excited to work with property managers to educate them about best practices to prevent the growth of Legionella bacteria.”

The City’s cooling tower law is the most protective law of its kind in the nation, requiring owners to test their cooling towers for Legionella bacteria on a quarterly basis; report laboratory results to the Department when bacteria rates are high; and conduct cleaning and disinfection within 48 hours if high levels of bacteria are found.

Cooling towers have been associated with Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks such as the two that occurred in the Bronx in 2015. While there have not been any New York City outbreaks since then, a cluster of cases was identified in 2017 in the Lenox Hill section of Manhattan.

"With 120 cooling tower-equipped buildings in our management portfolio, FirstService Residential is keenly aware of the importance of properly training property managers and building operators to comply with the City’s cooling tower regulations in order to ensure the safety of our residents,” said Dan Wurtzel, president, FirstService Residential. “We were delighted to organize the Health Department’s inaugural training on this topic which supports our commitment to continuing education on operations and maintenance best practices.”

“This initiative by the Department of Health is a smart and proactive approach to reducing the risk Legionnaires’ disease and hopefully these free training sessions will help prevent future cases,” said U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens). “Education is a key part of ensuring that properties are complying with New York City’s cooling tower law, and the agency’s Cooling Tower Academy will be a valuable resource to assist property managers and building operators. I commend the Health Department for launching this important effort.”

“Ensuring the city's cooling towers are properly maintained is vital in the prevention of Legionnaires’ Disease," said State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky. ​"Property manager​s ​and building operators​ generally ​want what is best for the residents, but many lack the information and education in New York City's cooling tower regulations to do so. This initiative is a great step forward in reducing the risk of another Legionnaires’ outbreak. I want to thank the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for being proactive in protecting ​the health and well-being of all New Yorkers.”

“New York City’s public health officials have worked proactively to curb outbreaks of Legionnaire’s Disease in the five boroughs," said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, Chair of the Assembly Health Committee. "But Legionnaire’s is unpredictable and difficult to eradicate, as we saw with the recent cases in Flushing. By undertaking this new initiative to educate building owners and residents about factors that contribute to the growth of Legionnaire’s bacteria, City health authorities are continuing to act with vigilance and prudence to protect the people of New York City.”

“We are always looking for more ways to help more Bronxites, with safety, security, quality health and improved government policies being critical to that effort,” said Assemblymember Michael Blake. “By offering building managers and interested parties a free 2 hour training, four times a year on how to properly maintain air cooling systems, the city will also achieve this goal of helping more people to thrive in safe and healthy environments. Having already designed and implemented some of the most extensive cooling tower regulations in the country, the NYC Department of Health is significantly reducing the chances of a Legionella outbreak by educating stakeholders on how best to protect our communities. NYC DOH and the building management teams working with them are making sure NYC and the Bronx stays Legionella free. Now Bronxites will have more tools to continue #BuildingABetterBronx.”

“Last week, an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease was reported in Queens,” said Council Member Karen Koslowitz. “Sometimes, we tend to forget what a constant, potential menace the Legionnaires’ bacteria poses. Educating property managers on the proper maintenance of cooling towers, a known prime source of this bacteria, is an absolute necessity.”

"Keeping the City's cooling towers clean is a tried and proven method of preventing the growth of Legionella bacteria and decreasing the risk of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks in New York City," said Council Member Ben Kallos. "Local Law 77 which mandates these comprehensive maintenance measures has been successful in keeping instances of Legionnaires’ disease to a minimum since 2015 when it was adopted. I encourage all property managers and buildings maintenance workers to take advantage and participate in the Health Department's Cooling Tower Academy classes so we can continue to keep New Yorkers safe."

Local Law 77

In response to the Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks of 2015, the Mayor and City Council passed Local Law 77 to reduce and contain Legionella bacteria growth in cooling towers, making New York City the first U.S. municipality to adopt a set of robust requirements to ensure cooling tower maintenance. Under the new regulations, all building owners must test their cooling towers for Legionella bacteria on a quarterly basis and implement maintenance plans to reduce the likelihood of outbreaks. The regulations detail requirements for: operations, quarterly inspections, reporting increased levels of Legionella bacteria to the Health Department, and annual compliance certification. If laboratory results show more than 1,000 colony-forming units per milliliter (CFU/mL) of Legionella bacteria in the cooling tower water, the results must be reported to the Health Department and the cooling tower must be cleaned and disinfected within 48 hours.

To enforce the regulations, the department hired over 60 staff; trained City personnel; increased surveillance capacity to rapidly detect and respond to potential Legionnaires’ disease clusters; and enhanced the New York City Public Health Laboratory’s ability to detect and characterize Legionella bacteria from cooling tower water samples. The Health Department also launched a new, handheld computer system that allows inspectors to record findings while in the field.

About Legionnaires’ disease

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by certain species of Legionella, a bacteria that grows in warm water. Legionnaires’ disease cannot be spread from person to person. Groups at high risk for Legionnaires’ disease include people who are middle-aged or older, cigarette smokers, people with chronic lung disease or weakened immune systems, and people who take medicines that suppress their immune system.

Symptoms resemble pneumonia and can include fever, chills, muscle aches and cough. Some people may also have headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite, confusion, or diarrhea. Symptoms usually appear two to 10 days after significant exposure to Legionella bacteria. Those with symptoms should call their doctor and ask about testing for Legionnaires’ disease. To learn more about Legionnaires’ disease and the City’s plan to prevent large community outbreaks, visit nyc.gov/health/legionnaires.

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MEDIA CONTACT: Christopher Miller/Stephanie Buhle: (347) 396-4177
PressOffice@health.nyc.gov