5 steps to prevent viral or bacterial outbreaks with proper cooling tower maintenance

by Brianna Crandall — October 14, 2020 — Building and facilities managers (FMs) are facing the tremendous responsibility of keeping facilities as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes mitigating and preventing the contamination of cooling towers from dirt, bacteria, and other dangers. While the coronavirus’s impact on heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems is still being researched, cooling towers are one of the more common sources for the growth of infectious bacteria, such as Legionella pneumophila, and can offer near-perfect conditions for viral growth, too, according to maintenance solutions provider Goodway Technologies.

Goodway - cooling towers

Goodway states the importance of routine cooling tower maintenance to control bacterial and possible viral growth as buildings reopen or remain closed. Image courtesy Goodway

Proper cooling tower maintenance has been a big concern for building operators and owners in recent years, especially after the introduction of ASHRAE Standard 188-2015, Legionellosis: Risk Management for Building Water Systems (ANSI Approved).

Even though the role cooling towers play in the spread of COVID-19 isn’t clear, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that bacteria, such as Legionella, can grow and spread in untreated water systems such as cooling towers, potentially causing legionellosis or, more specifically, Legionnaire’s disease.

As shuttered facilities begin to open up again — or in some cases remain dormant — it’s even more important from both a safety and financial asset perspective to make sure routine maintenance is conducted, asserts the company.

Goodway is sharing tips on protecting and maintaining cooling towers that will decrease energy costs, improve efficiency, extend the lifespan of equipment, and assist with safety measures.

Tim Kane, CEO of Goodway Technologies, stated:

We realize the heightened responsibility that companies are facing, and cooling tower maintenance is an especially important piece of HVAC system maintenance and protecting the health of your occupants.

The frequency and intensity of cleaning cooling tower systems should be directed by your overall HVAC maintenance plan or local statutes, says Goodway. In New York City, for example, cooling towers require inspection — and often cleaning — on a quarterly basis. This is designed to mitigate the risk of Legionella outbreaks, but also has an effect on increasing system efficiency.

A practical solution includes tiered maintenance plans, where the facility shuts down only portions of cooling towers and related equipment at a time to maintain some level of operation while maintenance is cycled. Goodway shares some additional best practices when it comes to cooling tower maintenance below.

Goodway’s Five Steps to Proper Cooling Tower Maintenance are:

  1. Inspect towers at least monthly. Sediment, scale, and slime can lead to buildup and help Legionella grow and thrive. Regular inspections will help determine when to schedule a cleaning.
  2. Clean tower basin surfaces. If sediment is visible, the basin needs to be cleaned, and cooling tower vacuums make it easier to remove contaminants without shutting down or draining your system.
  3. Descale the fill. The tower fill provides the perfect environment for bacterial growth, especially Legionella. A descaler will dissolve the scale and mineral deposits that Legionella likes to hide in, leaving the surface ready for cleaning.
  4. Clean the fill. A cooling tower fill cleaner will remove dirt and debris and inhibit the growth of other bacteria when utilized in conjunction with appropriate biocides.
  5. Disinfect the tower. Cooling towers can be a dangerous breeding ground for bacteria, which makes it important to reduce the nutrients available for Legionella growth. BioSpray Tower can kill 99.9% of Legionella pneumophila and is on the EPA list of disinfectants for use against SARS-COV-2 (the coronavirus that causes COVID-19) when applied properly on hard nonporous surfaces. It offers a labor-saving, no-rinse formula.

Protocols for the disinfection of Legionella pneumophila bacteria are well defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as global building technology society ASHRAE. See the following resources for specifics on disinfecting to prevent legionellosis:

Secure the right equipment

Before you start, take the time to assess your current maintenance solutions, advises Goodway. The right equipment can make the job easier and decrease total downtime. Cooling tower cleaning doesn’t have to be a lengthy, labor-intensive process anymore. From cooling tower vacuums and tower fill cleaners to cleaning solutions and descalers, Goodway has new, simpler options to efficiently clean towers without shutting down the system.

Visit the Goodway website to learn more about the company’s complete line of cooling tower maintenance products. Goodway also offers a free, on-demand webinar on “Preventative Maintenance for Cooling Tower Systems.”

Goodway Technologies has been delivering innovative maintenance solutions for more than 50 years for a wide variety of industries including commercial HVAC, food and beverage processing, power generation, and manufacturing. Goodway works with customers to create better solutions for tube cleaning systems, industrial vacuums, cooling tower maintenance systems, dry steam solutions, descaling systems, coil cleaning products, and “practically everything else” for the care and maintenance of HVAC systems. Goodway is recognized as an ISO 9001:2015 certified company.