Health minister wants cooling tower rules by next spring

·3 min read
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard says she wants rules for cooling towers in place by next spring following two legionnaires' disease outbreaks in the Moncton region. (Government of New Brunswick - image credit)
Health Minister Dorothy Shephard says she wants rules for cooling towers in place by next spring following two legionnaires' disease outbreaks in the Moncton region. (Government of New Brunswick - image credit)

New Brunswick's health minister says she wants rules for listing and inspecting cooling towers by next spring following two outbreaks of legionnaires' disease in the Moncton region.

Dorothy Shephard said it's uncertain if legislation will be introduced this fall, but "absolutely" wants to move ahead by the spring.

"We want to get this done and we're not going to sit on this," Shephard said in an interview with CBC on Tuesday. "But, we're not going to rush it and not have something dealt with properly."

The details of what that could entail and how much responsibility for tracking and inspections may be left to municipalities remain unclear.

The interview was the first time Shephard has publicly addressed recommendations by Public Health officials starting in September 2019 for a cooling tower registry and associated rules to stem outbreaks.

Dr. Yves Léger, a regional medical officer of health, recommended the province create a list of cooling tower locations across the province following an outbreak of the severe form of pneumonia in the Moncton region in 2019 that left 16 sick.

Shane Magee/CBC
Shane Magee/CBC

The list is meant to help quickly locate the towers for testing in the event of future outbreaks in order to more easily track down the source of the legionella bacterium.

Public Health is looking into whether cooling towers are to blame for eight cases in the Moncton region this summer. One of the eight has died.

Léger also recommended ensuring towers are tested and maintained, steps meant to reduce the risk of outbreaks occurring.

Léger said in September 2019 he would be making the recommendations as part of a report examining that outbreak, though that report was still a draft as of August because it had not been translated.

In February, the province issued a memo asking municipalities and regional service commissions to start tracking new cooling towers through the building permit process using an Excel spreadsheet. Listing existing towers is described as optional.

There was no mention of requirements for regular testing and cleaning.

CBC
CBC

Chris Boyd, who worked on a report about how to implement registries, previously told CBC the province's plan as outlined in the memo would be inadequate.

"This doesn't direct the building owners to take any steps to control risk, and it doesn't direct the municipalities to do anything to understand whether or not risk is occurring," Boyd said of the memo.

Shephard made it clear Tuesday that her intention isn't just to implement a registry.

"It's not a simple registry, it's a process," Shephard said in the interview. "It's a mechanism for reporting. It has to include inspections and mechanisms for testing."

She said it requires more work than initially anticipated and decisions have to be made around whether to have one central registry or one managed by municipalities with provincial assistance.

Shephard noted that much of the province doesn't have municipal government, though she said local governance reform is underway which could change that.

Opposition Liberal health critic Jean-Claude D'Amours said the province shouldn't be leaving the work to municipalities.

"They cannot shuffle the responsibility to others like the municipalities, the villages and the cities of this province," D'Amours said.

He said the 2019 outbreak should have been a wake-up call for provincial action.

"We are now in 2021, another outbreak and nothing was clearly done," D'Amours said in an interview Monday before Shephard spoke. "And we may face another situation in the future. And hopefully I hope it won't happen. I hope that nobody will be sick or die because of that."

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