When thinking about potential disease vectors, Verizon is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But this week, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced findings of a three-year study of cooling towers on buildings across the state. It didn’t look good for Verizon.
“Verizon failed to maintain its cooling towers on buildings across New York City, causing the spread of legionnaires’ disease, a dangerous and deadly form of pneumonia,” James it was said in a tweet.
The release, which revised Verizon’s record of cooling tower maintenance since 2017, comes amid two new clusters of legionnaires’ disease in the U.S., including the Bronx epidemic that has killed so far two people and infected at least another 24 people. The New York Department of Health has now linked these cases four specific cooling towers in the Bronx Highbridge area, where the bacterium was found to grow. The Ministry of Health did not say who was responsible for monitoring the towers. The Covid-19 pandemic may have contributed to the rise of such outbreaks, as the unexpected closure of buildings could have led to it. easier for bacteria grow in plumbing and plumbing systems.
Cooling towers like the ones Verizon uses are they are often placed on roofs, and are commonly used to cool machines, such as air conditioning systems and telecommunications equipment. There are many types of such infrastructure that private companies install in and around densely populated areas. Companies that use this type of equipment should follow best practices to ensure that their equipment does not pose a safety hazard. But when this infrastructure is not maintained carefully – and regulators do not notice violations – it can become dangerous and even lead to public health problems.
Legionnaires’ disease, which it causes Legionella bacteria, is just one of them. The disease was named after the outbreak of the disease American Legion ConventionVeterans Organization, 1976. Although often found in natural water sourcessuch as ponds, streams and lakes, this bacterium becomes problematic when it finds its way into man-made water systems, such as hot tubs, sinks and plumbing.
Once the bacteria begins to grow inside these devices, they can spread tiny drops of water, which, if inhaled, can infect the lungs and cause pneumonia. Legionnaires’ disease can usually be treated with antibiotics, and the symptoms of the disease are generally difficult to distinguish from other infections. However, the disease can be dangerous for people with certain risk factors or conditions, including people over the age of 50 or people with cancer. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that approximately one in 10 people with legionnaires’ disease die from complications. It’s a disease not transmitted from person to person.
Here’s where Verizon’s cooling towers appear: the cooling tower can spray into the air the water it uses to cool the equipment. If that water contains Legionella bacteria, that bacterium can also enter the air, where it can infect people nearby. These cooling towers are especially worrying because they can operate at temperatures that are ideal for that growth of this bacteriumespecially during summer. These cooling towers are also everywhere, as they are used to cool everything from air cooling systems to machines used for industrial processes and energy production.
“Electronic equipment emits a ton of heat and must be kept at a low temperature to work,” said Brian Labus, an infectious disease epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Nevada School of Public Health in Las Vegas. “Every time you have computer systems, and that’s what these places have, a ton of heat is produced, and they [have] to get rid of the heat – otherwise they will melt all their equipment. ”
Buildings and companies that manage these cooling towers should take a number of steps to stop the growth of bacteria, including constantly monitoring their equipment for potential infections. New York, for example, passed state and local laws to regulate these towers more aggressively after 138 people were diagnosed – and 16 people died from – Legionnaires’ disease during the outbreak of the Bronx epidemic in 2015.
After those laws were passed, the state’s attorney’s office began investigating the owners of the cooling towers to make sure they complied with New York’s demands.
According to a state prosecutor’s investigation, Verizon – which hires other companies to manage its towers – did not regularly inspect its cooling towers and failed to effectively disinfect those cooling towers after the bacteria was discovered. In total, the company committed at least 225 violations in about 45 different locations across New York City. Now, Verizon must pay a $ 118,000 fine and adopted several new procedures to ensure that these towers are maintained safely. The company told Recode that it did not admit that it had done nothing.
“Legionnaires’ disease remains deadly in areas across our state, especially in low-income communities and colored communities, ”James said in a statement Thursday. “It is essential that companies like Verizon take the necessary action to avoid the spread of this preventable, deadly disease.”
Outbreaks of legionnaires’ disease remain a concern throughout the United States. In addition to a recent set of cases in the Bronx, New Jersey health officials connected a cluster of legionary cases last month at the Hampton Inn, and in 2019 Georgia’s health service linked the outbreak probably caused nearly 80 cases diseases to the hotel cooling tower. Legionella bacteria have also appeared several times in unexpected places, e.g. beverage processing planthot water tanks used in Ford’s manufacturing facilitya GlaxoSmithKline location and cooling tower uses Disneyland.
But inevitably, the results of the New York investigation serve as a warning to many companies building or using infrastructure in cities and towns across the country – especially those who rely on water to cool it.
“As a technology company, you probably wouldn’t think about infecting someone with something [that’s] manage your equipment, ”Labus said. “This shows the importance of paying attention to your systems and providing appropriate levels of preventive maintenance and ensuring that you do not reach a point where you can transmit the disease to others.”