Cooling tower legislation passes, province expects rules in place by April 2023

·3 min read
There are about 500 cooling towers, like these shown on an industrial building in Moncton, across the province.  (Pierre Fournier/CBC - image credit)
There are about 500 cooling towers, like these shown on an industrial building in Moncton, across the province. (Pierre Fournier/CBC - image credit)

New Brunswick is a step closer to enacting rules for cooling towers to reduce the risk of legionnaires' disease outbreaks.

Legislation to implement a cooling tower registry passed third reading in the legislature on May 19 and will likely receive royal assent in June.

The law will require building owners and operators to have a licence to operate a cooling tower. Regulations will impose rules about maintenance and regular testing.

Dorothy Shephard, the province's health minister, didn't provide an interview. She told a committee hearing May 17 that the province plans to use an electronic system that building owners or operators will regularly update with test results.

A tool for prevention

"The beauty of an ongoing surveillance system, which will be given monthly data, is that the likelihood of being able to prevent an outbreak is going to be much greater than this system, where you actually have to wait for the cases to develop," Shephard said.

There are about 500 of the towers across the province, Shephard said.

The towers are mechanical equipment with water and a fan that are part of the centralized air-cooling system for a variety of types of buildings.

Shane Magee/CBC
Shane Magee/CBC

Bacteria can grow and spread into the community on mist from the towers carried by the wind. The illness, a severe form of pneumonia, doesn't spread person-to-person.

Officials have said that regular testing and maintenance can largely reduce the risk of the bacteria causing an outbreak. But there was nothing requiring that work in New Brunswick.

The City of Hamilton implemented a registry following outbreaks in 2006 and 2008, while Quebec also implemented rules after a deadly outbreak in 2012.

Shephard said the department intends to require towers to be registered by Aug. 1.

The province then plans to hold consultation sessions with industry and building owners, post draft regulations publicly in November, and then implement the new rules in April 2023.

Jean-Claude D'Amours, the Liberal MLA for Edmundston-Madawaska Centre, said during the May 17 committee meeting he was pleased this would be the last summer without rules in place.

D'Amours said it will be important that those dates are followed.

"I couldn't agree more," Shephard said. "This is very important [and] Public Health has treated it very seriously."

A registry and associated maintenance and testing rules were recommended by Public Health officials following a 2019 outbreak traced back to cooling towers in Moncton.

Sixteen people became ill. Fifteen of them were hospitalized and some were placed in an induced coma.

One died in Moncton

During that outbreak, City of Moncton staff helped Public Health search for buildings with cooling towers. The city later advocated a registry.

However, there wasn't one in place last summer when several more cases of legionnaires' disease were found in the Moncton region. One person died.

Public Health later determined the 2021 cases could not all be traced back to a single source as in 2019.

Shephard said in March that she believes test results would be made public.

"I can't see any reason why we shouldn't, it would be my expectation that they would be," Shephard said.

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