As we enter the summer months after a long pandemic, many communities are preparing for renovations or new construction projects. While there are many safety factors to consider during these projects, one that is often overlooked is the risk of Legionella. 

Legionella is not just a problem for old, dilapidated buildings with poor infrastructure construction and renovation projects present a critical opening for the contamination of a building’s water systems, especially in Senior Living buildings.

What is Legionella?

Legionella is a type of bacteria found in lakes, streams, and other freshwater environments. The bacteria becomes a serious health concern when it spreads to a building’s water system. Once it is introduced in a building’s water system, it can spread rapidly through droplets small enough for people to breathe in. Though less common, it can also be spread by aspiration when water accidentally goes into the lungs while drinking. Seniors with dysphasia and other swallowing difficulties are especially at risk for aspiration of Legionella.

Special attention must be paid in Senior Living environments as well because seniors are at heightened risk for the deadly infections that Legionella can spread Legionnaires’ disease and Pontiac fever.

Legionella in Construction Projects

During construction and renovation, a building’s water system is disrupted for long periods of time, causing the water to stagnate. During this disruption, biofilm and bacteria can be introduced into the water system through vibrations and changes in pressure.

Residual disinfectant levels, such as chlorine, can also drop significantly due to stagnation. In addition to reducing disinfectant levels, stagnation can lead to water temperatures between 77 and 113 degrees Fahrenheit. These factors contribute to creating an ideal environment for the Legionella bacteria to proliferate. 

When water is returned to use after the prolonged shutdown, aerosols containing the Legionella bacteria may be introduced into the environment, putting residents at risk.

Disinfection Protocols

The industry has set up some safeguards to minimize the risk of spreading Legionella after a construction project. As outlined in ASHRAE 188, a commissioning process must occur after certain projects are completed. Buildings must flush and disinfect their water systems within three weeks prior to occupation.

If occupancy is delayed more than two weeks but less than four weeks after disinfection, flushing of all fixtures shall be done again. If occupancy is delayed four weeks or more after disinfection, the need for disinfection and/or flushing of unoccupied areas shall be determined by a risk assessment by a Water Management Program Team.

Help Stay Compliant With A Water Management Program!

TELS has collaborated with industry experts and state surveyors to create a library of regulatory tasks and materials that can be tailored to your preferences.

View our services or sign in today to access a water management toolkit that can help you with your water management program from development to testing. Or contact us at 800-667-3880 to talk about the status of your water management plan and how we can help you develop, drive scale or assist with compliance to CMS guidelines.