Mold, Legionnaires' a worry as offices reopen to workers

Posted at 4:24 PM, May 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-26 22:51:45-04

NEW YORK — Workers headed back to the office face new risks once stay-at-home orders are lifted: Legionnaires’ disease and exposure to mold.

With buildings closed to non-essential workers, water in plumbing systems can stagnate and increase the risk for growth and spread of Legionella, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Legionnaires’ disease kills about 1 out of every 10 people who get sick with it.

People recovering from coronavirus could also be at higher risk in buildings with Legionella bacteria, according to a Purdue University study.

Plumbing operations work in buildings never stopped, even as most workers stayed home, and owners in New York have taken action to minimize risks, a Real Estate Board of New York official said. Owners and managers have worked to keep water systems clean and safe since the PAUSE order began on March 22.

REBNY and government officials are developing guidelines to safely reopen buildings to workers, an official said.

Faucets and toilets are possible exposure points, Alliance to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease Director of Technology and Science Daryn Cline said.

“If these idled water systems are turned on without following recommended start-up practices, which include having a water management program in place to minimize risk of exposure, COVID-19 patients, health care workers and support personnel in these buildings could be exposed to waterborne pathogens, which would worsen an already difficult situation,” he wrote in a letter about the issue.

An August 2012 Legionnaires’ outbreak in New York city killed 12 people and sickened more than 120 others. It is not contagious.

Many symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are similar to coronavirus symptoms.