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City calls for provincial cooling tower registry to fight Legionella

'It’s very difficult to prevent it, absolutely, but there are certain things you can do to proactively prevent it from happening,' says Fallis in calling for registry
rotary place orillia stock
An outbreak of legionnaires' disease in 2019 was linked to Rotary Place. Dave Dawson/OrilliaMatters file photo

The city is backing a call from the health unit to have the province create a cooling tower registry to help control Legionella.

The bacteria can cause the pneumonia-like legionnaires’ disease.

“To protect Ontarians from potentially fatal disease, strategies mitigating the risk of Legionella spread from cooling towers are needed,” Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) board chair Anita Dubeau wrote to Steve Clark, minister of municipal affairs and housing.

“... The implementation of a province-wide mandatory cooling tower registry is recommended as a first step towards improving the control of Legionella in the province.”

During Monday’s council meeting, Coun. Jay Fallis urged his colleagues to support the health unit’s request.

He noted there was an outbreak in Orillia in the fall of 2019, linked to the cooling tower at Rotary Place. There were 10 confirmed cases.

“It’s very difficult to prevent it, absolutely, but there are certain things you can do to proactively prevent it from happening or being a major issue,” Fallis said, adding a mandatory cooling tower registry was one measure that could be helpful.

Hamilton is the only municipality in the province that has a mandatory registry, while Quebec is the only province in Canada that has something similar in place, the health unit noted.

“Relying on local bylaw creation in Ontario would be impractical and resource intensive, particularly for public health units such as SMDHU, which has jurisdiction across many municipalities,” Dubeau wrote.

She pointed out cases of Legionella infection in the province are on the rise.

Twenty were reported in Simcoe-Muskoka in 2019, the most on record in a single year for the region.

In 2018, cases were also “exceptionally high,” at 10.

In supporting the health unit’s request to the province, Mayor Steve Clarke said the outbreak in Orillia “was quite a learning experience for us.

“Partly, what we learned is the province didn’t have a lot of information on which we could rely.”

Council voted to endorse the health unit’s letter — written in November 2021 — and make the city’s stance known by sending letters to various ministers, as well as the Association of Local Public Health Agencies and Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health.