Legionnaire's Nightmare Outbreak: A Sobering Moment for Facility and Property Managers

11/20/2019 - Blog

Imagine the nightmare of public health officials clad in protective suits descending on your property to inspect facility systems and the water supply.

Imagine shutting down your business—possibly for months—and contacting customers and visitors to alert them of possible exposure to a potentially deadly lung infection following a stay in your facilities.

Sheraton Atlanta is living this nightmare right now, as their doors shut to the public on July 15 following the death of a guest and confirmation that at least a dozen more hotel guests contracted Legionnaire's disease.

In addition to costly and urgent remediation, sudden business shut down, and haunting press coverage, the hotel now faces a possible lawsuit alleging negligence. Stewart Trial Attorneys and the Wetherington Firm say they are jointly representing over 40 hotel guests who "are experiencing significant health issues following stays" at Sheraton Atlanta in late June and early July.

Just two years ago, Michigan's top health official was charged with involuntary manslaughter for failing to alert the public about a Legionnaire's outbreak that resulted in the death of twelve people.


Legionnaire's disease is commonly spread by breathing in water vapor infected with Legionella bacteria. If your facility operates whirlpool spas, hot water tanks, cooling towers, large air conditioning systems, or ornamental fountains, it is critical that you have a proper water management plan in place to prevent the bacteria from establishing itself.

Particularly susceptible are large buildings housing vulnerable people (over 50 years of age, cigarette smokers, or people with suppressed immune systems), such as:

  • Hotels
  • Hospitals
  • Residential complexes
  • Assisted living facilities

Air conditioning units and mist sprayers at grocery stores are also prime breeding grounds for Legionella. The bacteria can multiply in water fountains, humidifiers, and ice-making machines as well.


A solid water treatment plan goes far beyond simply installing Legionella water filters. It requires:

  • A thorough risk assessment following guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC); and
  • A custom water management plan backed by a team of Environmental Health & Safety consultants capable of immediate response and remediation following positive Legionella sampling results.

Equally important to having a water management plan is being prepared to:

  • Manage the panic!
  • Get key stakeholders involved early;
  • Assess the situation and avoid a rash response that could increase collateral damage or unnecessary risk;
  • Effectively follow your water management plan, understanding how complex the application can be;
  • Reach out to your consulting team, so they can quickly jump on board to assist in implementation and conduct follow up assessments.

The biggest takeaway from the Sheraton Atlanta case is this: prevention is easier than responding to an outbreak.

Having a system in place to catch possible contamination early is key. Only diligent preparation and active maintenance can position you to successfully minimize risk and avert a serious contamination scenario.

Our EHS team successfully assists numerous state-of-the-art facilities—including critical care hospitals—in maintaining their water management systems. We're ready to help your team as well. Contact us today to start the conversation.


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