Legionella risk in energy-efficient Melbourne apartments

legionella

North Melbourne's George apartments have been identified as at-risk for legionella. Image: evolvedevelopment.com.au

Experts are concerned that many of Melbourne’s new energy-efficient apartment buildings are at risk of forming legionella bacteria due to their use of solar-powered “warm-water” systems.

The systems (which have become increasingly popular as a way for developers to achieve a six-star energy rating) use solar-powered boosters to heat water on the way to residents’ showers. Water is stored at temperatures between 25 and 40 degrees, which is lower than that of traditional apartment buildings, and can encourage the growth of legionella bacteria. Solar energy also does not always achieve high enough temperatures to kill off the bacteria, especially in winter.

Concerns are heightened by the fact that Queensland and South Australia have reported legionella deaths due to faulty warm-water systems in recent years.

Despite the increasing use of these systems in Australian apartment buildings, state and Commonwealth regulators have not established a prescribed standard for their assembly or installation.

According to The Age, leaked emails and documents show a senior officer from the federal government’s Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) has expressed concern about the “high-risk nature of warm-water systems”.

Experienced Melbourne plumber and gas fitter Ian Pewtress has also expressed concern about the use of the systems, stating that dozens of Melbourne buildings are at risk of developing legionella.

“We’ve identified 36 we know of throughout the CBD,” he told The Age.

Pewtress cited buildings such as North Melbourne’s George apartments, “one in Thornbury and another near Melbourne University”.

Pewtress and other plumbers have been communicating with the Victorian Building Authority (VBA) about the issue for over a year, however there has been little progress.

The VBA has acknowledged the need for a standard regarding the “design, installation and maintenance of multi-unit hot-water systems”.