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The Cooling Tower Inspectors Are Coming

New York City has the nation’s toughest laws governing the maintenance of water cooling towers, the rooftop behemoths that feed central air-conditioning systems. The laws, a response to a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the South Bronx in 2015, are now backed by considerable muscle.

The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOH) currently has 70 inspectors conducting more than 5,000 cooling-tower inspections per year. They’re armed with a hit list of 30 potential violations and the power to levy fines up to $2,000 per violation. Inspections occur once a year, and boards can fight violations at hearings before the Environmental Control Board (ECB). But it isn’t cheap.

“There has been a considerable shift of the focus [in New York City] from the primary goal of water treatment, asset protection, and public health and safety,” says Kevin Battaglini, regional manager at Chem-Aqua, a Texas-based water-treatment company. “We now spend significantly more time with the paperwork associated with the regulations.”

And the paperwork is mountainous. Every building must have a cooling tower Maintenance Program and Plan (MPP) completed and onsite. Most boards hire a water-treatment company to write an MPP and also to conduct and record mandated actions, including: twice-yearly cleaning and disinfecting of cooling towers; legionella bacteria analysis prior to start-up and every 90 days during the operating season; manual water testing three times a week (frequently performed by the super); and a biological water test once a week.

“As long as you do all the required testing, document it properly, and work with a reputable water-treatment company, you should be prepared to fight any kind of violation you receive from the DOH,” says Max Freedman, vice president at Maxwell-Kates, a management company. He recommends that boards have a lawyer present when challenging violations at the ECB. Board involvement might be the best way to avoid violations in the first place. “Many customers are looking to have more and more work outsourced to a third-party vendor,” says Chem-Aqua’s Battaglini. “But the regulations are written in a way that it should be a team effort between the customer and the water-treatment provider.”

“The bottom line is that if you obey the law and keep good records, you can beat the violations,” says Maxwell-Kates’s in-house counsel, Michael Bogart. “The best defense is compliance with the law.”

 

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