Legionella and Cooling Towers

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, February 19, 2018 – With sadness we’ve been reading about the ever-growing number of people in the Bronx that have been infected with and died from Legionnaires’ disease. Our hearts sincerely go out to those that have lost friends and family.

Cooling towers act as the radiator for large air conditioning systems. There has been little technological improvement over many decades in the industry and almost all manufacturers have built near identical designs. Traditional cooling tower designs do require considerable maintenance and can become environmentally unfriendly. This is because the water in the basin at the bottom is often exposed to sunlight that allows for the growth of algae, the primary food source for biological growth such as Legionella. This is compounded by stagnant areas in the basin where biological growth can multiply. The top-mounted fans cause drift emissions or mist to exit the tower at a rate where it commonly feels like it’s sprinkling outside when walking by the cooling tower. When people with lowered immune systems breathe in drift emissions that come from a cooling tower with high Legionella growth, outbreaks such as what we’re seeing now can occur. We published a white paper about this several years ago.

New York City is now faced with putting appropriate legislation in place to greatly reduce the potential for such an outbreak to happen again. The UK and Australia were among the first to put legislation in place relative to Legionella control with cooling towers several years ago. Their focus was on requiring owners to thoroughly clean their cooling towers every month or quarter, and that the government would oversee and enforce. Although every cooling tower owner needs to provide water treatment and routine maintenance as outlined in the manufacturer’s O&M manual, here’s the problem with that approach to solving the problem:

  • It’s unrealistic to shut down the air conditioning system during summer months for cleaning without spending a lot more capital dollars for a redundant unit.
  • Maintenance departments are under staffed, and because it’s one of the hardest jobs and in a confined space, new legislation will require a lot of teeth to actually be enforceable.
  • It increases the burden to the local tax payers since now oversight is required to ensure the cleaning is consistently taking place per legislation.
  • It encourages the use of air cooled systems instead of water cooled, which often use nearly twice as much energy and can double the building’s cooling system carbon footprint.

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

There are two (2) key things that have to happen in a cooling tower before someone can become infected from the cooling tower:

Legionella has to grow inside the tower

The mist or drift from the water in the tower has to be transported to the person.

If you eliminate either of those items, it’s near impossible for a person to get infected by Legionella from a cooling tower. Technology commonly exists today that can automatically greatly reduce and/or nearly eliminate both items above. As a more simple, manageable, and surer solution, perhaps legislation can focus on the following two (2) requirements instead:

  • Must install a basin sweeper system (already offered by major manufacturers and after market providers) if the basin does not keep the water moving at least 3’ per second.
  • This turbulence makes it very difficult for Legionella to grow, and the cost is much less and more realistic than monthly to quarterly government mandated cleaning.
  • Mist/drift eliminators must be designed not to exceed 0.001% drift emissions per CTI standards.
  • This will reduce the amount of mist that can travel from the cooling tower by 50-80%, depending on what’s currently installed.

If you’re reading this post, you probably already know that the Tower Tech modular cooling tower eliminates 100% of sunlight contact with the water so algae, the primary food source for biological growth like Legionella, doesn’t form. You already know the Tower Tech basin keeps the water moving at 5’ per second, without the need for a basin sweeper system, so Legionella has no hiding place. You already know Tower Tech towers have a drift emissions rate of 0.0004% per CTI standards so 82-90% of the drift or mist, as compared to conventional designs with top-mounted fans, is eliminated. That’s why a Tower Tech cooling tower is the surest way to eliminate the potential for Legionella. Additionally, readily available and cost effective technology exists that can easily be retrofitted into traditional designs (as described above) which can dramatically reduce the potential for Legionella without putting undue burden on local businesses and local government.

Cooling Tower Helps Eliminate Legionella

To see a specific example of how simply eliminating algae and keeping the water moving can reduce biological growth such as Legionella, see this case study.

Legionella growth in under-maintained cooling tower designs that utilize open basins with stagnant zones and high rates of drift emissions can be a matter of life or death. Technology that can easily replace or be retrofitted into these designs is readily available and can save lives. Use the right technology and let’s all breathe easier.

Tower Tech is the leader in modular cooling tower design that has turned the industry upside down by mounting fans on the bottom and introducing more efficient and innovative water-cooling technologies to the market. Our full line of open-circuit and closed-circuit towers lower the total lifetime cost of ownership and combat increased utility costs by saving water and electricity. Fiber Reinforced Polymer (FRP) components are factory-assembled in the USA in our ISO certified facility. FRP is an advanced composite material that is corrosion-resistant and known for low maintenance and longevity. Our FireStrong™ towers are fire-rated for critical installations, and our StormStrong® towers are hurricane, missile impact and seismic-rated to ensure operation in extreme conditions. Tower Tech’s HAVC technology is installed around the world in commercial and industrial markets from data centers, industrial applications and power generation plants to hotels and universities. Tower Tech has led the industry since 1989 with our patented tower technologies that take sustainability and energy efficiency to the next level. Tower Tech is part of Creative Composites Group – the largest structural composites manufacturing group in the US.

Sustainable efficiency is our guiding purpose by saving valuable resources.