Cooling Tower Safety and Maintenance

Aligning Debris Management and Water Treatment Procedures Is Key to Cooling Tower Safety and Efficiency

The following is an important reminder of the need for all companies that use cooling towers, to adopt and keep diligent in their maintenance and water treatment program. Why? because what’s at stake is a companies worker health and safety, the company’s reputation and operational efficiency; these can be dramatically affected by the unsafe condition of a single cooling tower read more.

In 2001 a major worldwide auto manufacturer experienced a tragedy when four of its facilities maintenance employees became ill with pneumonia-like symptoms that ultimately claimed the lives of two. The cause – Legionnaires Disease caused by the Legionella bacteria found in one of the manufacturers process cooling towers. The company quickly moved to conduct a “cause analysis” by inspecting its cooling towers worldwide to identify how systems were being maintained and to determine best maintenance practices. This ultimately led to the establishment of a world class monitoring and maintenance procedure that ensures such a tragedy will never be repeated at the company.

How a Legionella Tragedy Can Happen

Interestingly, when someone becomes ill from an unsafe cooling tower it most often is not the result of a company’s blatant negligence; rather, it’s typically the result of a company not having a clear understanding of the need for their water treatment program to be in alignment with an effective debris management and cooling tower maintenance program. While it may seem obvious that if the amount of debris inside of a cooling tower exceeds the established biocide dosage, the demand placed on the dosage will quickly be consumed and will have little impact on the bioactivity. In other words, the debris and bioactivity occurring in a cooling tower can overwhelm the chemical dosage. It is well known and important to remember that cooling towers are highly efficient air scrubbers; anything drifting past a cooling tower is likely to get caught in its draft and be sucked-in.

When organic debris such as cottonwood seed, leaves, insects, pollen, grass, birds and their droppings, etc. get into the water and decompose, it along with the relatively warm temperatures of the water create a nutrient rich environment for bacterial growth including Legionella. Further, it’s important to recognize that if the volume of decomposing debris exceeds the chemical dosage’s ability to provide control, the cooling tower will silently grow dangerous even while chemical dosing continues. The fact of the matter is that it’s easy for companies to develop a false sense of security that their cooling towers are safe either because they are treating the water themselves or, because they’ve hired a water treatment service to establish dosage levels that should ensure the tower is safe. In either case, if organic debris management isn’t in alignment with water treatment dosage levels and made integral to the maintenance process, there is an increased probability of the tower becoming a health and safety hazard. It doesn’t matter how large or small a company or a cooling tower is; bacteria including Legionella doesn’t discriminate – it will thrive in any poorly managed cooling tower!

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