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Nalco Water Hosts Conference on Strategies to Reduce the Risk of Waterborne Pathogens

May 08, 2017

With increasing public health concerns associated with Legionnaires’ disease and waterborne healthcare associated infections (WHAIs), it’s not surprising that more than 200 healthcare professionals and building owners and operators attended Nalco Water’s April 20 conference in Baltimore on strategies to reduce the risk of waterborne pathogens.

One of Nalco Water’s leading water safety experts, Eric Myers, opened the conference with a discussion on waterborne pathogens and how, if left unchecked, they can flourish in building water systems putting building tenants and, in the case of healthcare facilities, patients and staff at risk of serious infection. One of these waterborne pathogens – Legionella – can cause Legionnaires’ disease, a serious lung infection that’s deadly for 10 percent of those who contract it. 

Along with the health risks, building owners and facility managers can face an immediate crisis and longer term business and legal risk associated with Legionella outbreaks and the occurrence of WHAIs. 

Susan Smith, a partner in the law firm of Goldberg Segalla, shared her expertise with conference attendees. “The legal landscape is shifting. Recent high profile outbreaks, evolving standards of practice and new regulations are drawing attention to water safety and water management strategies. Public health officials are looking to building owners and operators to take steps to minimize the risk of an outbreak or infection associated with their facilities,” said Smith.

Building owners and operators also need to be aware of the potential for negative impacts on their brands and reputation. According to Bob McNaney, senior vice president of the public relations firm Padilla, a Legionella outbreak presents a crisis situation for which building owners must be prepared.  “Just by sitting in the room today and thinking about crisis preparedness, each of the organizations here took the first step in protecting their respective brands. You must walk toward the crisis-take responsibility from the start. Own it and fix the problem as best you can,” said McNaney.

Hospital infection prevention professionals view their building water as a serious, but controllable source of potential HAIs, and the conference attracted many participants from local and regional hospitals and healthcare systems.

Ecolab’s Dr. John Hanlin, vice president of Public Health, is familiar with the need to raise awareness among healthcare professionals and building managers of the health risks associated with waterborne pathogens in building water systems and the steps that can be taken to mitigate the risks. 

“Legionnaires’ disease is a serious form of pneumonia,” said Hanlin.  “The infection can occur when susceptible people inhale Legionella-contaminated water mists or aerosols. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are at least 20 outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease reported each year in the U.S. with approximately 5,000 people diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease.  Fatality rates of 10 percent or higher have been reported, and CDC investigations show that almost all Legionella outbreaks were caused by problems preventable through more effective water management.” 

Conference participants learned how to develop and implement a water safety management plan.  Topics included how to conduct a water safety risk assessment, the role of secondary disinfection and the value that cooling tower cleaning and disinfection plays in reducing risk.

Nalco Water, an Ecolab company, has been the global leader in water safety for more than 25 years and has partnered with building owners, facility managers, environmental risk managers and infection prevention specialists to develop more than 10,000 water safety management programs, each customized for specific operations.

Contact our water safety experts at WaterSafetyinquiry@ecolab.com for more information.

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