South Bronx Hospital Staves Off Legionnaires Disease with Anti-Microbial Cooling Towers

18 Cooling towers

NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln chose to increase protections against possible future exposure to Legionella bacteria by installing 18 anti-microbial cooling towers.

Deadly outbreaks of Legionnaires Disease have become an all too common occurrence. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 6,100 people per year in the United States are sickened by this serious form of pneumonia, and one out of 10 of those will die. Legionella – the bacteria that causes Legionnaires - proliferates in water systems like the cooling towers used in conjunction with large HVAC systems.

So when a cooling tower supporting the HVAC system at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln was nearing its expected end of life, the management of the 362-bed hospital in the South Bronx saw an opportunity. The year before, the neighboring community had experienced outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease, and even though the hospital’s cooling towers played no role in those outbreaks, the chance to increase protections against possible future exposures of the bacteria that cause the disease was an important consideration.  

Accordingly, the hospital’s engineering and management teams prioritized the selection of an anti-microbial cooling tower option. They also gave extra weight to finding a system that would save energy, consistent with the larger health system’s ongoing goals.


Finding the Source

Legionnaires' disease is a severe form of lung infection caused by exposure to bacteria known as Legionella. Found naturally in freshwater environments like lakes and streams, Legionella becomes a health hazard when it grows unabated in water that is not properly treated. While this can include showerheads, hot tubs and hot water heaters, cooling towers are often found to be the source of outbreaks.

Cooling towers have a long history of effectively expelling heat from the water used in many commercial and industrial applications. However, a recent study from the CDC found that an overwhelming majority of the cooling towers they tested contained Legionella DNA. This indicates that the dangerous bacteria were either currently present or had been at some point, and without proper precautions would eventually give rise to an outbreak.

Legionella bacteria can flourish in cooling towers and spread to humans when expelled water vapor or mist containing the bacteria is inhaled. Each year, as many as 18,000 people are infected with the Legionella bacteria in the United States.


Addressing Microbial Concerns

NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln, a large, full-service community medical center and teaching hospital — part of the largest public healthcare system in the United States —knew what was needed. Louis Iglhaut, Associate Executive Director at NYC Health + Hospitals, led the team responsible for the specification, acquisition, and installation of the new cooling towers.

Lincoln Hospital

NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln is full-service community medical center and teaching hospital located in the South Bronx.

Originally, one of Iglhaut’s primary design priorities for Lincoln Hospital’s new cooling tower was to focus on efficient and thorough water circulation. In other words, the design of the new towers should not have corners in the basin, as many do, including the stainless steel models the hospital was replacing.

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