Cooling towers tested just once a decade for legionella
SCOTLAND’S top virus expert has called for a public inquiry into the recent legionella outbreak which claimed the lives of three men.
Professor Hugh Pennington has warned of more outbreaks after discovering many of the country’s cooling towers are being inspected as infrequently as once every ten years.
“Legionnaires’ disease is one of the nastiest and most lethal of infectious diseases in the UK,” he said. “But it is utterly preventable. Something went badly wrong in Edinburgh. A public inquiry is the most effective way to establish the facts around what went wrong and to prevent yet more outbreaks.”
More than 100 people contracted the bug, which began in the south-west of Edinburgh in May. Investigations to find the source are ongoing and continue to centre on industrial cooling towers in the area.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has already issued notices to some of the businesses that run towers being investigated, calling for them to be better maintained and regulated.
There are about 6,000 cooling towers across the UK and the HSE only has responsibility for inspecting about half of them. The rest are checked by local councils.
Latest figures show in 2011 the HSE inspected just 134 cooling towers – compared with 237 the year before.
Prof Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University, said the towers were being inspected ten times less often than premises which sell food.
“There is a real lack of co-ordination regarding who inspects all of these towers, how often they do so and even where all these towers are,” he said.
“There are genuine fears some towers will be going under the radar and not inspected at all.
“Given all of this, I worry other outbreaks will follow, putting more lives at risk. This risk is real and the bug is not going away.
“Some people who fall victim to Legionnaires’ do have underlying health conditions but it is no good blaming things like smoking and drinking for this.
“The bottom line is that three people died after getting Legionnaires’ in Edinburgh and other areas of the UK.
“People should not be dying from this in this day and age.
“Yes, inquiries are expensive ,but so is the cost of looking after people infected with Legionnaires’ in our hospitals. Ultimately, an inquiry would save money and lives.”
Scottish Labour last night backed the inquiry call. The party’s health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie, said: “Prof Pennington’s intervention is significant and his authoritative voice should be a reason for the Scottish Government to pause and reflect on their decision not to have an independent inquiry.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east