In 2015, New York City passed laws addressing the growing public health concerns related to Legionella and other waterborne pathogens. These laws specifically mandate the maintenance and operation of cooling towers, making it the first proactive inspection program for cooling towers in the United States. And, if you own a building in New York City with a cooling tower, failure to comply with these new Legionella laws can result in significant financial penalties.
New York City Legionella Laws are incredibly specific and go much farther in scope and detail than merely have a sound cooler tower with a dedicated water treatment program or inspecting a yearly cleaning.
So what exactly are the responsibilities of business owners with a cooling tower in New York City? Let’s take a closer look.
(Note: This article is intended to help provide you with the information you need to understand violations associated with not properly operating and/or maintaining a cooling tower in NYC. Please note this article is for informational purposes only.)
Legionella Laws in NYC: A Brief History
During the summer of 2015, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene were aggressively trying to identify the source of a legionella outbreak affecting the city. This outbreak would sicken 133 people and 16 would later die from the illness. While cooling towers were suspected of causing the outbreak, dozens of towers were tested, however, no record of all cooling towers in NYC even existed, creating a big problem for the Department of Health.
At the time, the maintenance and water treatment of cooling towers wasn’t regulated anywhere in the United States, let alone within the five boroughs. But the 2015 outbreak in NYC was so severe that immediate legislative action was taken. As a result, both New York City and New York State passed separate emergency regulations to register and address all cooling towers through the City and State. By the following summer, sweeping health related laws were passed at both City and State levels governing the water treatment and maintenance of cooling towers.
The following pieces of legislations were created as a result: New York Codes, Rules and Regulations, Title 10 – Part 4: Protection Against Legionella which given its power by Statutory Authority: Public Health Law, section 225(5)(a); NYC Local Law 77 (2015); and Chapter 8 (Cooling Towers) of Title 24 of the Rules of the City of New York.
These laws represent the most sweeping laws ever passed in the United States in order to protect the public from legionella.
NYC Cooling Tower Violations & Penalties
In any cooling tower assessment, there are six steps involved in addressing NYC Cooling Tower Violations and Penalties:
- Formal Cooling Tower Inspection – Inspectors from the Department of Health’s Office of Building Water Supply Oversight (DOH) visits every residential and commercial facility with a cooling tower every year. During their investigation of the building’s water supply and distrubution systems they will also inspect water tanks, evaporative condensers, internal plumbing and waste water systems throughout each facility. They may also collect environmental samples for testing, including water water quality analysis, and review building maintenance programs and any plans for building new cooling tower systems to ensure compliance. Depending on the facility and their findings, these visits can take many hours or additional visits to complete.
- Inspection Summary Report (ISR) – After conducting their initial inspection, the DOH Inspector will return with their Inspection Summary Report. In most cases this report will be delivered electronically on the same day that the inspection is completed and is usually sent to the email address on file with the Department of Buildings that was used to register the cooling tower online via the NYC Cooling Tower Registration Portal. The ISR lists the codes of law and whether the facility is Compliant or in Violation. This initial report should be used by the building owner or manager to determine if anything needs to be prepared to answer any potential negative findings.
- Violation Deficiency Report (VDR) – The ISR is sent to the in-house Compliance Team of the DOH who reviews it for accuracy and makes a final evaluation and once complete, the official findings of this inspection are cataloged in the Violation Deficiency Report (VDR), which is also delivered electronically to the email address on record. The VDR is usually sent out within 30 days of the inspection and explains greater details about any violations that were noted during the inspection. Each section of the law that has a violation assessed will be noted on the VDR and the specific citation that triggered the violation will be explained in detail along with potential remedies and the amount of time to address those violations.
- Notice of Violation (Summons) – If there is a violation, notice of that violation will come in the form of a Summons, typically scheduled within 30 to 60 days of receiving notification. Depending on the severity of the infraction you may be asked to pay fines, attend hearings overseen by the Environmental Control Board (ECB).
- Satisfying the Summons – If a penalty is noted on your summons and the summons does not state that you must appear, you’ll likely have two options. You could either pay your penalties – usually online, by mail or in person – or you can contest your summons by participating in a hearing. If you pay your summons on or before the hearing date without having a hearing, you are admitting to the charge and you waive your right to a hearing. If you want to fight a summons, you must do so on or before the hearing date listed on the summons. If you have a hearing and the Hearing Officer finds you in violation of the charges cited by the enforcement agency, you must pay that penalty, even if you wish to appeal the hearing officer’s finding. If you do not pay before the hearing and you do not contest your summons by participating in a hearing, then you will be found in violation of the charge by a default and a higher penalty may be imposed. If you do not pay the imposed penalty, the City may file papers with the Civil Court of New York City and enter a judgment against you. The Department of Finance, the agency responsible for collecting money that is owed to the City, may also start collection activities.
- Certificate of Correction – Once you have received a Department of Buildings Summons (also known as Notice of Violation), it typically includes a Commissioner’s order to correct the conditions. Depending on the severity of the violation or violations, you must correct all violating conditions in order to certify correction. A Certificate of Correction is a form used to certify correction of a violation/summonses issued by Department of Buildings and scheduled for a hearing at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings of the Environmental Control Board. For more information of how to file a Certificate of Correction, please visit the NYC Department of Buildings’ website.
Compliance With New York City & State Cooling Tower Laws
While there are a lot of details in the New York State and City Cooling Tower Laws, the following is a list of the major requirements that have to be fulfilled by the building owner or manager in order to be compliant:
- The cooling towers must be registered on both the New York City Cooling Tower Registration and the New York State Cooling Tower Registration
- Your New York City Department of Buildings Cooling Tower Registration Number MUST be posted on a sign or plate that is securely fastened to the cooling tower/evaporative condenser. You should have one number per cooling tower system on your property.
- Your Cooling Tower Maintenance Program & Plan (MPP; also known as a Water Management Plan) MUST be in place. This plan needs to be developed by a “qualified person” and was required to be on-site by March 1st, 2016.
- Your cooling tower water treatment program must be in place at the time of startup. Your program must comply with your NYC Cooling Tower Maintenance Program and it must utilize daily automated blow down control and chemical feed.
- Your cooling towers MUST be cleaned and disinfected in accordance with your Maintenance Program and ASHRAE Standard 188 within 15 days of start-up. Cooling towers MUST be cleaned and disinfected as often as necessary as per Chapter 8 of Title 24 of The Rules of the City of New York, but no less than twice per year.
- You MUST have a qualified person perform a pre-startup inspection and take a legionella sample prior to starting up your cooling tower this cooling season. The sampling dates and test results must be entered in the log section of your Maintenance Program and Plan.
- A legionella sample must be taken when the cooling tower is initially run and then every 90 days (not to be confused with three months) while the cooling tower is operating. If your system runs seasonally, the first test must be taken before start up.
- A qualified person must conduct a cooling tower inspection every 90 days while the tower is in operation.
- A qualified person must conduct a yearly Compliance Inspection. The yearly certification must be submitted to the City via the online cooling tower portal.
- You MUST have testing supplies on-site and, in New York City, someone on your team must be trained to and responsible for taking manual water quality tests at least three times per week (with no more than two days between tests) and biological tests (dip slide tests) at least once per week. The water quality test results must reflect pH, temperature, conductivity, and biocidal indicators present in the cooling tower (open condenser) water. If there is no one on your team to that can perform these mandatory duties, there are approved methods to automate the water quality tests however, the biological indicator tests must still be run weekly. The tower must be inspected weekly by someone on your on-site team and any issues must be noted in your log book.
If you need any help with these tasks, you should contact us for more information. We offer comprehensive Cooling Tower Water Treatment Solutions that keep you compliant. Our contracts include licensed cooling tower cleanings, legionella testing, all testing supplies, a custom maintenance and treatment program and more
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