HEADLINES Published August4, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

NYC Officials Looking at Cooling Towers as Source of Legionnaires’

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Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York at a press conference on Legionnaires' disease
(Photo : Andrew Burton, Getty Images)

As the death toll from the outbreak of Legionnaires' disease has reached seven, New York City officials have announced they will create legislation to tighten the regulation of water-cooling towers. These towers are thought to be the source of the cluster of cases.

A cooling tower is a structure that takes waste heat out of a building by cooling air through the evaporation of water. Cooling towers are often found on top of large buildings especially in large cities. Cooling towers emit droplets of water that can carry the bacteria. Inhaling the water droplets can lead to the infection. Five cooling towers in the South Bronx have tested positive for legionella bacteria. All five towers have been cleaned and disinfected.

At a news conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to present legislation by the end of the week to address the lax regulations of cooling towers in the city. The legislation is still being finalized, but it would require the owners of buildings that have cooling towers to register them with the city. It would also mandate that cooling towers must be inspected regularly, and that owners decontaminate towers if legionella bacteria, which causes Legionnaires' disease, is discovered in the water.

Seven people, all of them older adults with other health problems, have died from Legionnaires'. However, the outbreak appears to have peaked.

"At this point we are confident, based on the medical and scientific information we have, that we have identified the only sites that are causing this outbreak," Mayor de Blasio said at the news conference. "For too long, the risk of Legionnaires' was underestimated. We are going to be very aggressive in dealing with this problem."

Legionnaire's disease is a form of bacterial pneumonia that causes symptoms similar to the flu. It is spread primarily through water droplets from air conditioning or cooling systems. 

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