Posted: January 5th, 2022

Tap Water is Clean enough to Drink, so Why Do We Need to Worry About Legionella?

Everyone knows that you shouldn’t drink untreated water from a lake or stream. In contrast, water treated by a city or municipality is quite safe to drink (also referred to as “potable”).

Given this, why do you need to worry about Legionella bacteria and other waterborne pathogens if your hotel, factory, hospital, long-term care or residential facility uses city-treated water? Legionella water management plans and Legionella tests aren’t overly expensive, but do you really need them?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) answers this question: “Tap water meets stringent safety standards in the United States, but it is not sterile.” The CDC makes it clear that bacteria and other microbes may be present when water leaves your tap. They also make it clear that certain conditions within plumbing systems such as stagnation, heat, and complexity can encourage microbial growth, which can lead to dangerously high levels of waterborne pathogens.

Healthcare, nursing homes and long-term care settings are particularly at risk because they serve many immunocompromised and older individuals who have weaker immune systems. The CDC notes that the risk does not stop at the tap. Even hospital sink drains and toilets can pose a risk for harboring antibiotic resistant pathogens that can spread to patients and cause harm. This is why the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and CDC consider it essential that hospitals and nursing homes have a water management program that is effective in limiting Legionella and other opportunistic waterborne pathogens from growing and spreading in their facilities.If you don’t work in a hospital or nursing home, you might think you can ignore Legionella. Unfortunately, that’s not true. While a point of regulatory focus, hospitals and retirement homes are not unique in the need for Legionella water management programs. Any facility that may have older or immunocompromised / immunosuppressed visitors or employees also puts them at risk.  Hotels, resorts and correctional facilities are a large sources of Legionnaires outbreaks.

They too need a documented plan for Legionella mitigation, testing and, in the case of an outbreak, immediate remediation. Older and immunosuppressed individuals comprise a significant portion of the population (many common prescriptions work by suppressing the immune system) so you almost certainly have individuals with weaker immune systems in your facility.

What can you do to protect people in your facility? First, take our CDC risk assessment. It will help you understand your level of risk, and what you can do to mitigate that risk. Then consider a professional risk assessment to get a more defined level of your potential liability from a Legionella outbreak. You may find that you have a large potential risk and liability associated with a Legionella outbreak. By comparison, a water management plan and preventative, routine testing are bargains.

We recommend that you contact our certified staff at Nancrede Engineering to speak about testing and an onsite risk assessment to help you. As truly independent Legionella and waterborne pathogen experts, we can help you develop a cost-effective plan that reduces the risk to both people while minimizing your liability.
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