In response to a recent outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the South Bronx, this week the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (“NYCDOH”) issued an order to the owners of thousands of buildings with cooling towers across New York City, requiring them to investigate and disinfect their buildings’ cooling tower systems within fourteen days. The August 6, 2015 order, issued pursuant to the New York City Health Code, also requires recipients to retain an environmental consultant with relevant experience to test their cooling towers for the presence of organic material, biofilm, algae and other visible contaminants, and to maintain records of their investigation and disinfection activities.

Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia caused by a strain of bacteria (Legionella) that thrives in warm water. Over the last three weeks, approximately 100 people in the South Bronx have been hospitalized with the disease.

Cooling towers – rooftop structures that that hold water used in certain buildings’ air conditioning, ventilation or heating systems – can present conditions that foster the growth of Legionella, with individuals exposed through water vapor from the cooling tower or building infrastructure. NYCDOH has detected Legionella in five South Bronx cooling towers, all of which have been remediated under government oversight.

The New York State Department of Health is providing free Legionella testing for buildings with cooling towers systems. According to press reports, Mayor Bill de Blasio is also expected to propose legislation increasing the New York City’s regulation of cooling towers, including new testing and maintenance standards.

Sive, Paget & Riesel has significant experience in the full range of environmental and public health issues facing building owners and managers, including asbestos removal, lead paint abatement, and cooling tower maintenance. The firm is currently representing clients concerning compliance with the City’s latest cooling tower directives, including the selection of consultants with relevant expertise and coordination with regulators to ensure timely investigation and disinfection where needed. For additional information about NYCDOH’s order and its impact on building owners and managers, contact Scott Furman or David Yudelson.