Connecting the Dots: 2015 Legionnaires Outbreak and Duct Leaks
The 2015 outbreak of Legionnaires Disease in New York City sparked a swell of interest in duct sealing that continues to this day. Immediately following reports of the outbreak, contractors reported a surge of inquires from property owners and facility managers wanting more information about the role that duct leakage played in the spread of the disease. Reports from the field found that HVAC businesses throughout the East Coast and elsewhere experienced a notable increase in customer inquires related to indoor air quality in general.
Over a year later, we continue to hear from contractors that are responding to an uptick in calls from commercial clients concerned about indoor air quality’s role in the spread of disease, said Bryan Barnes, Sr. Director of Business Development for Comfort Institute, a training and support organization for mechanical contractors. “They are learning that the microbes responsible for Legionnaires disease are typically spread through a contaminated indoor air environment, and that has led them directly to concerns about duct leakage.”
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the EPA and others, duct leakage can be a major contributor to health risks associated with poor indoor air quality. Leaks in the ductwork allow contaminants to enter the duct system at one location within a structure and then spread throughout the rest of the building.
Experts believe that Legionella Pneumophila, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires disease, is typically spread through a building’s ventilation system. In the New York City epidemic, first reported in August 2015, the outbreak was traced to contaminated cooling towers, which release water mist. It is likely that the contaminated water mist spread throughout the atmosphere with the assistance of leaky ventilation systems, and then was inhaled by occupants.
“It’s estimated that poor indoor air quality costs businesses as much as $100 billion a year in lost productivity, health costs and other related problems,” said Barnes. “Poor indoor air quality can cause everything from headaches, coughing and skin irritation to more serious health concerns such as what we saw in New York.”
During the 2015 outbreak, more than 100 people were diagnosed with Legionnaires Disease. While this disorder is easily diagnosed and can be treated with antibiotics, 10 people died due to this single event.
To help minimize health risks associated with poor indoor air quality, many health organizations including the CDC, the EPA and the American Lung Association, recommend sealing ductwork. While some leaks can be addressed using traditional duct sealing methods, studies show that the most efficient and cost-effective means of sealing ductwork is with the use of aerosol-based duct sealing technology.
“We are working hard to educate the public about the problems associated with poor indoor air quality and the role that duct leaks play in exacerbating the problem,” said Barnes. “The 2015 Legionnaires outbreak is a reminder of how easily airborne diseases can spread and put us all at risk.”
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