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Water tank safety in the UAE
8 of 10 tanks tested contained Legionnaire's desease bacteria Discuss this article
‘Dead birds, a few inches of sand, oh – and Legionnaires,’ says Rob Courtnell, contracts manager for Howdra. Rob is talking about what nasties are found inside people’s water tanks during regular inspections in the UAE. Not surprisingly, this might shock you as much as it did us – especially as our kids regularly drink the bathwater, and who knows what else.
‘The temperatures here combined with poor water tank maintenance, create the perfect environment for breeding bacteria. In terms of dead animals in water tanks, this usually happens when they are positioned on the roof of a building, the hatch is loose (or not there at all) and a thirsty bird – or whatever – topples in.’
But what can we do about such waterborne invasions and should you be panicking – especially if you have small children?
‘I wouldn’t panic about it,’ he says reassuringly. ‘In fact, considering how much Legionnaires we do find in water tanks (which is far more often the case than not), very few people seem to be actually struck down with it and that’s reassuring. But families should try to maintain both their air-con ducts and water tanks sensibly all the same, because other everyday illnesses, like coughs, colds and tummy bugs, are also spread through dirty ducts and tanks – and nobody wants that either.’
In tank terms, Rob explains, households should consider flushing out their water systems at least once a year (preferably twice). That’s because, even if your tank has a well-fitting lid and is kept under cover, a year or so without cleaning will still result in several inches of silt building up at the bottom.
This then filters through your system, and into your home. Coupled with this, he explains, the mains water temperature in summer is often a bacteria-breeding 38°C or more, so if your equipment is scummy, the germs will have a field day.
If your tank is very hard to reach or clean (some are underground, while others are large enough to hold 3,000 gallons), he says, it’s best to hire a reputable cleaning company to ensure the job is done properly.
‘The chemicals used to clean water tanks are so strong that you need a special licence from your local Municipality to use them. And in many cases this is the best way to ensure your system is properly cleaned.’
But what about the air-con? Isn’t it also to blame for the large numbers of coughs, colds and sniffles we see in Abu Dhabi? Yes, says Rob, and having them cleaned three to four times a year is essential, because not only will cough and cold spores be spread via the re-circulated air (which will invariably be picked up by the children), but dirty air-con ducts can even trigger asthma attacks. Plus they work inefficiently, so are much more expensive to run.
‘As for Legionnaires, it’s often present in the drip trays. We tackle it by putting slow-dissolving tablets into the system which sterilizes them for two to three months at a time.’ he says.
Finding Legionnaires in your home is worrying, says Dr Handan Celiloglu, a consultant medical microbiologist at The City Hospital in Dubai, explaining that when aerosols [airbourne particles] infected with Legionella are breathed into the lungs, it is more likely to cause the disease. This is considered the primary means of transmission, but drinking the water is as much of a threat.
‘Legionella are widely distributed in the environment and man-made facilities. Most people are exposed to it,’ she explains, ‘but few develop symptoms. Those who may get it are people susceptible to pneumonia, those who have compromised immune systems, those over 60 or heavy smokers. Legionella is associated with a spectrum of clinical presentations, ranging from asymptomatic infection to severe, life-threatening diseases.’
Rob adds: ‘Sensible management helps, so clean your tanks and have your A/C cleaned properly. What you’ll save money-wise in electricity and doctor’s bills over the course of a year could even make up for it.’
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