In 2002, seven people died of Legionnaires’ disease when an air conditioning unit at the Arts Centre in Barrow, Cumbria, emitted a fine spray of water into the street, which the victims inhaled. A further 500 people fell ill and many were left with life-long illnesses as a result of the outbreak. Legionella is a naturally occurring bacteria which can live in any water system, and it’s growth is aided by temperatures between 20*C and 50*C, stagnated water and nutrients in the water such as slime, algae or sediment. The disease is contracted by an ‘at risk person’ inhaling water droplets containing the bacteria. By maintaining, cleaning and regularly using water systems or air conditioning units, the risk of legionella developing in the water is minimised.
Council architect Gillian Beckingham, responsible for maintaining the building, had cancelled the contract which maintained and cleaned the system on a regular basis only a few months before the outbreak. Mrs Beckingham was fined £15000 and convicted of breaching health and safety legislation. The council also received a fine of £125,000, although charges of manslaughter were thrown out.
Ten years on, a memorial service held in remembrance of those who died as a result of the outbreak was held last week at St George’s Church in Barrow, where the Reverend Linda Crinin described the “grief [still] surrounding what happened 10 years ago”.
Every case of Legionnaires’ disease is preventable, and every one is caused by either inadequate maintenance, inadequate cleaning, or lack of use – or a combination of the three. An up-to-date legionella risk assessment must be commissioned for all ‘at risk systems’ such as hot and cold water or air conditioning and a detailed control regime generated from this risk assessment must be followed.