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Legionnaires Disease Risk with Stainless Steel Sinks & Taps

Legionnaires RiskFor the better part of the last century up to know, stainless steel has been used the world over to make industrial and home utilities. All has been well and good until recently when scientists discovered that stainless steel sinks and taps are directly linked to putting people at the risk of contracting the life-threatening Legionnaires ’ disease.

This is because it has been observed that rust particles in a body of water facilitate the growth of Legionella bacteria. These are the bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease. It has been found that steel taps contain the highest concentration of rust. These taps typically degrade over time, thus promoting the development of rust and hence encouraging bacterial growth.

To get a better understanding of the implications of the growth of these bacteria, let us have a look at the Legionnaires’ disease.

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia thus causes serious lung infections. Additionally, the bacterium causes Pontiac fever which resembles the flu. When Legionnaires’ disease and Pontiac fever are combined, they are referred to as legionellosis which can be fatal. After contracting Legionnaires’, the initial symptoms may include:

  • Slight headaches
  • Muscular painsFever
  • Fatigue
  • Altered mental states and feeling confused.

Once the bacteria start to infect your lungs, you will begin experiencing symptoms of pneumonia which may include:

  • Chest pains
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • A persistent cough that is dry at first but once the infection develops you may start producing phlegm and at times, blood.
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting, and nausea.
  • In some unfortunate cases, the disease has been known to cause infections in wounds and affect other body parts such as the heart.

Legionnaires’ disease is not contagious and thus cannot be passed from person to person. However, it is contracted by not only drinking but also inhaling tiny molecules of contaminated water. Naturally, the legionella bacteria exist in all sources of water such as lakes, ponds, and rivers. However, they are in minute concentrations and cannot cause any harm. The problem usually occurs when they find their way to artificial water systems i.e. reservoirs. Here, they multiply rapidly. This is because water supply systems offer the right conditions for the bacteria to grow which are:

  • A consistent water temperature of between 20-45C
  • Source of food for the bacteria in the form of impurities such as algae, limescale, and rust.

The bacteria have also been known to contaminate showers, spas, and sprinkler systems. When the disease is fully blown and not treated, it might lead to some life-threatening conditions which include:

  • Respiratory failure. It occurs when the lungs are not able to perform their functions. The body is unable to get oxygen and expel carbon dioxide from the blood.
  • Septic shock. This occurs when there is a sudden drop in the blood pressure resulting in a decrease in blood flowing to the vital organs such as the brain and kidneys. To counter this effect, the heart over-compensates by pumping more blood; this effort weakens the heart resulting in an acute reduction of blood flow.
  • Kidney failure.Legionnaires’ disease may cause the kidneys to lose their ability to perform their functions which is to filter waste from the blood. This will result in accumulation of waste in your body.

Reports indicate that the disease has been on the rise in Europe. The reports stated that in 2015 alone, 7000 cases of Legionnaires’ in Europe were noted. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) allege that many more cases were not reported.

Now that stainless steel (plated stainless steel) is what seemed to be the culprit, a team of researchers from the Netherlands decided to analyse three water systems typically found in many homes. The three systems were made of stainless steel, brass ceramic, and a thermostatic mixer tap.

They tested each of the setups with clean drinking water, water that had been laced with the bacteria and another that had rust and bacteria. These setups were monitored for more than three years.

The results revealed that the stainless steel taps that had contaminated water and added rust contained the highest concentrations of Legionella. The bacteria were present in 46.4% of the samples. The Legionella thrived and replicated in these conditions than in any of the other setups. The bacteria concentrations were 20000 – 100000 per litre.

The kitchen taps that were laced with the bacteria but did not contain the rust additive had the bacterium present in 14.3% of the cases.

The scientists then deduced that the growth of the bacteria was thought to increase when the coating of stainless steel degraded over time. In contrast, the brass and chrome taps appeared to be the safest, with less than a quarter of their samples showing contamination, even in the presence of rust.

To reduce the risk of contracting this disease, it is wise to ensure that your kitchen fittings have a WRAS approval. The Water Regulations Advisory Scheme is a governing body that 26 UK water supply companies have subscribed to. WRAS aims to help in the protection of the public health by prevention of the contamination of public water supplies and endorsing the efficient use of water. The regulatory body provides services that include maintaining the approved supplier, plumbing, and lists of products and services that have been judged against their compliance with the water fittings regulations in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

WRAS also provides an approval system that acts as a means by which manufacturers show that their products comply with the regulations. According to WRAS, these regulations are applicable to any water system fitting which, after installation, will receive or transport water from and to the public water supply.

Once a manufacturer submits their product, it only gains approval after going through thorough mechanical and water quality tests by independent laboratories. The product will also need to meet the installation conditions required so as to obtain the WRAS approval.

This approval system will also cover non-metallic constituents and materials such as gaskets, rubber washers and water hoses. They also undergo rigorous to ascertain the effect that they have on the water once they come into contact. This is because some materials may cause the water to have an undesirable taste or smell, as well as discolouring the water or making it cloudy. Some other materials may impart toxins to the water, or create conditions favourable for bacterial growth. The WRAS approval will only be given once it is established that the materials do not contaminate the water in any way.

WRAS approval will last for five years after which the product will need to be brought back for re-assessment. Apart from issuing approvals, the WRAS also advise the water companies in the UK on the implementation and understanding of the Water Fittings Regulations. It also acts as the representative of the UK water supply companies in issues regarding compliance.

More importantly, the WRAS issues the Water Industry Approved Plumbers’ Scheme which is an accreditation scheme for plumbers that have qualified to practice in the plumbing sector. WIAPS membership demonstrates that the water industry professional is well versed in the Water Fittings Regulations knowledge.

The purpose of these regulations is the prevention of waste, excessive consumption, misuse, and erroneous water measurements. Most importantly, they ensure that the drinking water is not contaminated. These regulations play a crucial role in protecting the health of the public while ensuring that water is used responsibly and efficiently.

Failure to comply with these directives is a criminal offence that may result in prosecution. However, while all water fittings should conform to the Water Supply Regulations, there isn’t a legal stipulation that mandates a WRAS approval. This is simply the easiest way to show that your brand cares for the public health by demonstrating compliance.

Any company that is involved in the commercial plumbing components industry is morally obliged to care for your health. However these processes, though noble, can be quite expensive and that is why some companies may not go through with them. But Legionnaires’ disease is something that you want to avoid. You need to play your role in ensuring that all the water fitting components in your home are WRAS approved. This will not only ensure your health but also that of your loved ones. After all, as the old adage goes, prevention is better than cure.

Die-Pat Divisions Limited is the U.K’s leading provider of specialized catering, hardware, and plumbing components required in the food service industry. With over half a century of memorable experiences serving you, all of our high-quality industrial products are fully WRAS approved. We care for our clients’ well-being and that is why we go through the process to ensure that everything from our taps to hoses meet the required standards.