Combating Legionella in Your HVAC System This Summer

As your commercial HVAC system will be hard at work to cool the office down this summer, one problem that can arise from an unkempt system is legionella. A byproduct of contaminated water, breathing in air with this can lead to Legionnaires’ disease. Here’s how you can go about combating legionella in your HVAC system this summer.

What is Legionella?

Before combating legionella in your HVAC system, it’s important to understand what it actually is. Legionella is a bacteria that, if inhaled, can lead to Pontiac fever or Legionnaires’ disease — the latter of which can potentially be fatal. 

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Legionella, while “usually harmless and found naturally in water and soil, [can become] a potentially deadly human health hazard when it grow in places such as poorly maintained domestic and industrial water systems; cooling towers; or heating, ventilation, and air condition (HVAC) system.”

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease and Pontiac fever, according to the Mayo Clinic, can develop over the course of two to 10 days. Onset symptoms include muscle aches, headaches, and even a fever that exceeds 104 degrees. Following the onset, one may also experience chest pain, breathing problems, nausea, coughing, and/or confusion.

So how does one go about combating legionella?

Clear Standing Water

One of the most common causes of legionella growth is the pooling of standing water in your HVAC system. In combating legionella growth, it is imperative that you identify where in your HVAC system potential standing water may have built up and remove it immediately.

Your HVAC system features a complex network of parts — including an evaporator coil and drain pan. As the system works to cool your home or office, the evaporator coil removes heat from indoors. Unfortunately, residual humidity that is removed by the evaporator coil will be left behind in the form of condensation. This condensation then makes its way to the drain pan — which can ultimately be a dangerous breeding ground for legionella growth.

In order to clear the standing water, you must first shut off your AC unit. Then, you can use a wet vac to rid the surface of excess water. Remove and replace pans that have become rusty, too. While getting rid of standing water is an important step in combating legionella, it’s only the beginning.

Incorporating Water Treatment

In regards to commercial HVAC, combating legionella also encompasses the sediment and scale buildup in your cooling tower. According to Health and Safety Executive ACOP and Guidance L8 (via Integrated Water Systems), “The presence of sediment, sludge, scale and other material within the system, together with biofilms, are also thought to play an important role in [harboring] and providing [favorable] conditions in which the Legionella bacteria may grow.” 

As your HVAC system works ardently this summer to keep your home or office cool, you should also be aware of potential debris buildup. So how do you identify debris buildup? Incorporating a water treatment schedule will help rid your cooling tower of such. As the name implies, water treatment refers to the process of improving a water’s quality for use — which, in this case, is for HVAC purposes. In order to do such, you should invest in the right filtration (think: disc filters, centrifugal separators, sand media filters, and screen filters).

Investing in the proper chemicals, such as industrial descalers, are also important. These will help break down calcium, lime, rust, and scale. Combining a chemical cleanout with a physical cleaning using brushes will break down and get rid of that dangerous debris.

How XTRAIRE Can Help in Combating Legionella

At XTRAIRE, our family-owned business is home to many experienced and trained HVAC technicians. If your home or commercial business needs help with combating legionella and other airborne contaminants, we are here to help. To learn more, please visit our website and contact us for a free estimate today.