A number of Victorian plumbers believe that the increased uptake of new-age energy-efficient hot water systems could be putting building inhabitants at risk of legionnaires’ disease.
The concerns from Australian Master Plumbers Association vice president, Kevin Shinners and Pipetek director, Ian Pewtress were published by The Age on 4 December and followed news that a legionella risk in the warm-water system of North Melbourne's George apartments (below) had been left unresolved for months.
Pewtress himself has been dealing with the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) on behalf of the George building's owners' corporation for more than a year now and was only recently successful in having the bacteria risk of George’s warm-water storage tanks rectified. He also noted that he had identified over 35 buildings in Melbourne facing the same legionella risk as George and that part of the problem is an increased specification of uncertified new age warm-water systems, used to meet energy efficient targets.
More specifically, he says that the systems, which store water at cooler temperatures than traditional systems (between 25-40 degrees) and then rely on solar-powered boosters to heat water on the way to residents' shower heads, are often not achieving high-enough temperatures to kill off legionella bacteria.
Despite their increasing popularity, there is currently no prescribed standard for their assembly or installation of warm-water units in apartment buildings from state and Commonwealth regulators, and this is concerning for Shinners.
"There is a health and safety issue there but we don't seem to get any traction with the VBA," Shinners told the age.
Upon investigation by the VBA, the George’s solar hot-water tanks were found to not have the mandatory "Watermark" certification and they have since been bypassed to rectify the legionella risk.
Warm-water systems are common in aged care and healthcare buildings where scalding is a threat.