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Preventing Plague

In the summer of 2015, a mysterious plague swept through the South Bronx. It left 12 people dead and more than 120 severely sick before the culprit was found – an improperly maintained water cooling tower that had fostered the growth of the Legionella bacteria, the source of Legionnaire’s Disease.

The city responded by passing Local Law 77 – one of the nation’s strictest set of regulations on the maintenance of the city’s 6,000-plus water cooling towers, which disperse heat from the water used to cool centrally air-conditioned buildings, including co-ops and condos. The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently issued 19 pages of additional regs. Failure to comply with the law can result in fines up to $25,000 and up to one year in prison.Obviously, this is an area where most co-op and condo boards rely on experts, usually a water-treatment vendor who monitors chemical levels in the water cooling tower, refills tanks as needed, checks for leaks, and performs necessary adjustments, repairs, and clean-ups. Many of those vendors also prepare the Local Law 77-mandated Maintenance Program and Plan (MPP) for the building’s tower, and they conduct required quarterly inspections, notifying the health department of elevated Legionella culture levels. Twice a year all towers must be disinfected by a technician licensed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. By November 1 of every year, a credentialed inspector must confirm that the MPP for every cooling tower has been followed and all requirements have been met.

Sounds like a fail-safe system, right? Not necessarily. Allowing your water-treatment vendor to review his own work could open your co-op to a sloppy or incorrect inspection. It might be a better idea to invest in an independent company to conduct unbiased inspections. That could end any conflict of interest – and protect your board from a stiff fine or even time in jail.

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