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Lessons learned on legionella?

With schools reopening after the summer holiday and the UK enjoying some blisteringly hot weather, the CIPHE is urging all those reopening premises after a prolonged period of closure - be that educational facilities or businesses - to be extra vigilant when it comes to their water systems.

While buildings have been unoccupied, water left sitting in pipes could change in quality. Stagnant or standing water can cause conditions that increase the risk for growth and spread of Legionella, other biofilm-associated bacteria and harmful contaminants. 

Legionella is of particular risk, with figures from Public Health England showing a seasonal rise in cases from June to October. It causes a potentially fatal form of pneumonia, Legionnaires’ disease, which is contracted by inhaling tiny water droplets. 

All man-made hot and cold water systems can provide an environment ripe for Legionella bacteria and biofilm to grow. With premises closed, systems have not been used and maintained as usual. Worryingly, harmful Legionella bacteria can incubate in as little as 2-10 days.

Jerry Whiteley, CIPHE Technical Manager warns, “If your water has a bad or ‘off’ taste, an unpleasant odour and/or discoloration, these can be signs of bacteriological growth or pipe corrosion. Both are extremely bad for water systems, putting those who use them at considerable risk. However, due to Legionella’s short incubation period, it’s not always obvious that there’s a problem until it’s too late. Therefore it’s always prudent to regularly use water testing kits to ensure systems are safe.”

Those in control of premises have a duty to identify and control the risks associated with legionella, biofilm and contaminants. Jerry added, “Legionella is always a risk at this time of year, and even more so after the unseasonably warm temperatures we’ve seen of late. The CIPHE is recommending that water systems should be flushed and re-commissioned by a professional before buildings reopen.”

Apart from the human cost of contracting Legionella or a water borne disease, an outbreak will shut down newly opening schools and emerging businesses. With the NHS already fighting a prolonged battle with coronavirus, localised outbreaks of yet another deadly respiratory disease will place far too much stress on the system. 

“The bottom line is that diseases associated with poor water quality can be prevented.” Continued Jerry. “Those in charge of business premises should put employing a competent plumbing professional at the top of their list prior to reopening.” 

For those needing more information, the CIPHE has put together a free guide with the Construction Industry Council called Mitigating the Risk of Building Water Systems. This can be downloaded at www.ciphe.org.uk/mitigating-risk

Those requiring a professional plumbing engineer to inspect their water systems should visit www.ciphe.org.uk