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2 November 2011

Recycling company fined over legionella risk

A MERTHYR Tydfil-based recycling company has been fined £600 and ordered to pay costs of £8,577 following HSE investigations into the Heads of the Valley legionnaires' disease outbreak in September 2010.
Recycling company fined over legionella risk
While not the source of the outbreak, Merthyr Industrial Services (Biomass) Ltd were prosecuted by the HSE for failing to take appropriate measures to control the risk of exposure of its workers and the public to the legionella bacteria.

HSE inspectors visited the Penygarnddu industrial estate premises on 8 September 2010 and found that over a period of five weeks, the company had sporadically been operating a cooling tower on site without taking appropriate measures to control the risk of proliferation of the legionella bacteria.

Merthyr Industrial Services (Biomass) Ltd of Penygarnddu Industrial Estate, Merthyr Tydfil pleaded guilty to breaching regulation 8(1) of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, and regulation 3(1) of the Notification of Cooling Towers and Evaporative Condensers Regulations 1992.

No single source was identified for the Heads of the Valley outbreak last year, which led to two deaths and 20 others needing hospital treatment, but investigations suggested a number of different possible sources accounted for the cases.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Stuart Charles said: 'While it is not alleged this company was one of the sources of the legionnaires' disease outbreak last year, it is essential that companies operating cooling towers fully understand the risks of legionella, and the steps they need to take to control that risk.

'Operating a cooling tower, even for short periods, without the proper controls in place can present a significant risk to employees and members of public. It is important companies comply with the legal requirement to notify local authorities if they are operating a cooling tower. If an outbreak occurs, this information is vital to the outbreak control team when planning a response.'

Investigations at the time identified two distinct clusters - six people with legionnaires linked to a small geographical area in Rhymney, and six victims spread out across a wider area in the Cynon Valley. One mini cluster was closely linked to a retail premises outside the outbreak area and a further mini cluster in the Merthyr Tydfil area. One further case was microbiologically linked to a premises outside the outbreak area. In four cases, no plausible explanation of their source was found.

Investigations and sampling of cooling towers and industrial processes in the area identified four located close to clusters. Action was taken on each but no live legionella bacteria was able to be grown from any of these premises.

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