New Brunswick

New Brunswick introduces cooling tower registry, maintenance law

The New Brunswick government has introduced legislation to implement a cooling tower registry that would require regular testing and maintenance. 

Legislation follows 2019 legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Moncton

Cooling towers on an industrial building in Moncton in 2019. (Pierre Fournier/CBC)

The New Brunswick government has introduced legislation aimed at reducing the risk of legionnaires' disease outbreaks linked to cooling towers following a 2019 cluster in Moncton.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard introduced a bill Tuesday that would require a licence for buildings with cooling towers. 

Shephard said the province would phase-in requirements related to testing and maintenance of the systems. 

"This will mitigate risks of any future outbreaks and will enable a quicker and more efficient response to risk factors associated with legionnaires' disease," Shephard said in the legislature. 

Dorothy Shephard, New Brunswick's health minister, introduced a bill Tuesday that would regulate cooling towers following a 2019 legionnaires' disease outbreak in Moncton. (Shane Magee/CBC)

The towers are mechanical equipment with water and a fan that are part of the centralized air-cooling system for a variety of types of buildings. 

Bacteria can grow and spread into the community on mist from the towers carried by the wind. The illness, a severe form of pneumonia, doesn't spread person-to-person.

Tell us what you think!

Help shape the future of CBC article pages by taking a quick survey.

A registry and associated maintenance and testing rules were recommended by Public Health officials following a 2019 outbreak traced back to cooling towers.

Sixteen people became ill. Fifteen of them were hospitalized and some were placed in an induced coma.

The registry is meant to help quickly locate the towers for testing in the event of future outbreaks. Officials have said that regular testing and maintenance can largely reduce the risk of the bacteria causing an outbreak. But there was nothing requiring that work in New Brunswick. 

It wasn't immediately clear who would be responsible for administering the registry and ensuring compliance under New Brunswick's system.

Shephard told reporters that aspect will be discussed as part of consultations with industry and included in regulations published once the bill passes.

"Local municipalities are concerned about weight being put on them, so I'm very conscious of that," Shephard said. 

"I expect that we'll be looking to Service New Brunswick to be a part of this, and that also means IT setups. So we still have some things to work out, but we wanted to ensure this progressed."

An up-closed electron micrograph image of a pink-coloured bacteria on a teal blue background
Cooling towers have been cited as the source of several legionnares' disease outbreaks, include one in 2019 in Moncton where 16 people became ill. (Janice Haney Carr/Centers for Disease Control/Associated Press)

In a February 2021 memo, the province asked municipalities to voluntarily collect information on new cooling towers for locally held registries, saying listing existing ones is optional.

An expert called that approach inadequate. Chris Boyd, who worked on a report about how to implement registries, told CBC last year that the province's plan as outlined in the 2021 memo result in ad hoc, piecemeal data collection.

Several weeks later, the minister told CBC the province would introduce legislation by this spring. 

Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold, who sent a letter to the province calling for cooling tower regulations, didn't comment on the bill Tuesday. A spokesperson for the city said it had yet to receive any details. 

Records obtained by CBC News through multiple access-to-information requests revealed that Public Health pinpointed cooling towers on Organigram's facility as the origin of the 2019 outbreak. The province and Organigram refused to publicly acknowledge that until December 2020.

Some of those who became ill sued the company, though the cases were quietly ended late last year

Shephard said Tuesday that she believes test results from cooling towers under the new legislation will be made public. 

"I can't see any reason why we shouldn't, it would be my expectation that they would be," Shephard said.