Empty office buildings may give rise to other health risks

Stagnant water in unused buildings could increase risk of Legionnaires’ disease

National /
May.May 22, 2020 09:30 AM
Stagnant water in office buildings may pose risk to returning workers (iStock; CDC)

Stagnant water in office buildings may pose risk to returning workers (iStock; CDC)

Workers abandoned their office buildings in mid-March to heed stay-at-home orders. But their absence may allow for the accumulation of other health risks.

A new study, conducted by Purdue University researchers Dr. Caitlin Proctor and Dr. Andrew Whelton, argues that standing water — and bacteria — may proliferate in unused office buildings, the New York Times reported. That could open the door to other diseases, the biggest concern being an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, caused by the virus Legionella, which has a death rate of about one in 10, according to the Center for Disease Control.

“Not every building will have issues but based on what we know, enough of them probably will,” Dr. Proctor said.

Some areas of the country have been under shelter-in-place orders for two months, including New York, which shut down on March 22. Hotels, gyms and other commercial properties could be at risk as well.

The study assessed 21 different guidelines for office building managers to keep their buildings safe, developed during the coronavirus pandemic — not all of which are “created equal,” said Dr. Proctor. Typically, office building managers add small amounts of disinfectant to the water, but that can dissipate after even one weekend of stagnation, Whelton said.

Other steps building managers can take include flushing out old water to bring in a new supply, using a high dose of infectant or raising the temperature enough to kill bacteria.

Bill Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management, said that taking such safety steps are standard procedure in his company’s buildings.

“Our engineers go through the building testing systems all the time,” he said. “That’s standard procedure.”

In 2015, New York City suffered its worst outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in its history. More than 120 people were infected and 12 died. The outbreak concluded when health officials identified the culprit: a contaminated cooling tower at the Opera House Hotel in the South Bronx. [NYT] — Georgia Kromrei


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