Blue Earth Products is in Las Vegas, the entertainment capital of the world that, which in spite of the global great recession, is still seeing rising numbers of vacationers and business travelers from all over the world. In the last nine months, two hotels owned by MGM Resorts have had outbreaks of Legionnaires ’ disease, a deadly form of pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria naturally found in water sources. Six people were known affected at Aria in July, 2011 (18 months after it opened) and three at Luxor (15 years after it was first opened). All have recovered, but at least one death is recognized to be from the second Legionella outbreak at the Luxor. You can read the story HERE.
In reading the company’s and the local health department’s comments in the press, visitors to Las Vegas are assured there is no problem and any problem that did happen was simply a fluke and should not cause anyone an issue staying at the MGM properties. Further, following the second outbreak and death at the Luxor, a company spokesman spinning the story, in which the Legionella remediation efforts were being vaguely detailed, promptly announced that, “It’s yet another investment in how we protect guest safety.” But what about protecting guest safety by doing something before anyone gets sick or dies? To be fair, the frustration for operators of any facility is that Legionella takes a while to incubate so people may not know they were exposed for a long while. If you are immune-compromised, it can be, and often is, deadly.
Additionally, this is not a Las Vegas problem; it’s a world-wide problem. More recently there was a Legionella outbreak at a Best Western in upstate New York with the usual response, “it was not really a problem, it’s no longer a problem.” Legionella came to the public stage in 1976 at an American Legion (hence the name) convention in a Philadelphia hotel when 221 people were sickened and 34 people died from this previously misunderstood form of community illness. Note I said misunderstood – people have been dying of this for years, we just did not have enough information and a “compelling event” that caused enough of a furor to get the attention of the CDC. Once identified, people developed management processes to deal with it, but conventional wisdom created urban legends that affect complete Legionella prevention or treatment, such as the issue is only in hot water. While the bacteria will proliferate in hot water, it likes room temperature water just as well.
While infection is usually from vapors in showers and water-cooled air conditioning, the Ohio State University hospital lost a cancer survivor to water that had the bacteria in a water fountain. In fact, one of our hospital clients that uses Clearitas® 301 as a secondary management method of removing the places the bacteria can hide, finally removed all of its water fountains because they were a constant source of the problem. The ONLY safe way is to treat Legionella is to treat ALL the water. Further frustration comes from the third-party experts that allegedly know how to solve the problem by usually adding a ‘secondary disinfection’, some manner of boosting the disinfection from the city chlorine. Often, these consultants exacerbate the problem by moving slowly, proliferating old wisdom and using timeworn or ineffective technologies even when aware of new ones. For example, common solutions are ultra violet and ozone generators (expensive to buy and operate and requires many locations), chlorine dioxide gas (similar but with the added issue of having a chemical generator in the basement of a building), which only deal with potential disinfection in new water, not the years of bad water management that has infected the pipes with biofilms and organically glued scale.
Also, consultants still advise super-heating the water in the building and flushing it out. Shockingly, all these have been questioned or dismissed scientifically, but still are being used. HERE is a paper from one of the leading experts on the subject and a co-discoverer of the issue in hospitals. Ultimately, to manage this issue so nobody else gets sick or dies, hotel and hospital management and operators need to understand that Legionella bacteria is not like an occupying army that moves in and can be seen from afar and monitored visually. It is like a terrorist that shows up in places you never know or suspect, that is here today, not detectable in a few days and can come screaming back in a matter of hours. The owners of public buildings, consultants that service them and all water treatment personnel must embrace a prevention formula, not a remediation plan.
Unfortunately, prevention plans are only put in place when compelling events, such as deaths, occur. And now the lawsuit against MGM, and its builders and partners in Aria, is claiming $337.5 million. You can only guess what they will be for Luxor. Preventative maintenance costs of $2 million per year using Clearitas to prevent Legionella outbreaks at all Las Vegas MGM properties is looking a lot cheaper these days. The litigation, even if the plaintiffs’ case fails, will cost more than that in just legal expense. At the end of the day, preventative methods are worth the costs to keeping your guests safe and protecting your reputation. Dane Madsen, CEO