Legionella bacteria control in federal buildings

From: Public Services and Procurement Canada

Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) has played an important role in establishing procedures aimed at preventing an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease (legionellosis). This disease can affect tenants or occupants of buildings managed by the Department and its service providers.

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About Legionnaires’ disease

Legionnaires’ disease is a non-contagious respiratory infection. It is mainly spread by breathing in water vapour or mist that has been contaminated with Legionella bacteria. The bacteria occur naturally in the environment and certain conditions, such as hot or warm environments, promote their growth. Cooling towers, hot water tanks and water storage systems can present these types of conditions.

Legionella bacteria can proliferate in building water systems when the following conditions are present:

  • a temperature range between 20°C and 50°C
  • stagnant water
  • a lack of sanitation in the system

The key to preventing outbreaks of the disease is controlling bacterial growth in water systems through preventive maintenance.

We have been testing our buildings regularly since 1986. We ensure that they comply with codes, standards and various other health and safety requirements. In addition, property maintenance projects related to health and safety have been funded and delivered on a priority basis.

Symptoms of exposure to Legionella bacteria

Early symptoms include fever, chills and a dry cough. Legionnaires’ disease is not spread through contact with infected individuals and is rarely fatal. The severity of the disease varies from a mild fever to a form of pneumonia. The incubation period for the disease is 2 to 14 days. People with weaker immune symptoms are more at risk of getting the disease. If you think you may have some symptoms of Legionella exposure, you should consult a physician.

Quebec regulations

An outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease occurred in Quebec City in summer 2012, and the source was a cooling tower. In response, the Quebec government introduced new regulations for the operation and maintenance of cooling towers. Among other things, the new regulations provide for the following:

  • the registration of all cooling towers in the province
  • the creation of a Legionella control plan for each tower that must be certified by a licensed professional engineer

Regulations for ministry buildings

Although no Crown-owned or PSPC-operated buildings were implicated in the outbreak, the Department published a new standard, Mechanical Design 15161 – 2013 Control of Legionella in Mechanical Systems (standard MD 15161).

In buildings leased by our department, the lease agreements stipulate that the building must be operated and maintained in compliance with all federal, provincial/territorial, municipal and regional acts, regulations and codes. This includes compliance with American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) standards related to the maintenance of heating and cooling systems.

Our department also works closely with regional health authorities to ensure that our buildings remain safe. The following policies and practices relate to the prevention and control of bacterial growth in PSPC-owned buildings, based on federal government and ASHRAE requirements:

  • The Real Property Services Facility Maintenance Policy requires preventive maintenance that includes inspection, testing and cleaning of mechanical systems
  • Standard MD 15161 provides requirements for
    • preventing the growth of Legionella bacteria
    • cleaning and disinfecting contaminated systems
  • PSPC’s Legionella Management Communications and Actions Protocol is aimed at
    • supporting staff in applying the requirements of standard 15161
    • briefly describing the actions required after receiving bacterial testing results

Should any system test above the allowable threshold limits for Legionella bacteria established inPSPC’s standards, the appropriate stakeholders will be informed.

More information on Legionnaires’ disease can be found on the Health Canada website.

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Related links

Quick facts: How Public Services and Procurement Canada controls Legionella

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