Global public health organization NSF International and ASHRAE have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) dedicated to protecting public health by establishing safe management practices for building water systems. These systems include cooling towers, air conditioning units for large buildings, hot tubs, large complex water systems (in hotels, hospitals, cruise ships and institutions) and decorative fountains, which can be attributed to public health concerns such as Legionella.

Under the terms of the MOU, NSF International will provide its 70-plus years of water industry expertise and ASHRAE will leverage its building systems expertise to jointly develop NSF 444: Prevention of Injury and Disease Associated with Building Water Systems. This new standard will address concerns such as legionellosis, which according to the CDC is on the rise. The CDC estimates that between 8,000 and 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease in the United States each year, with more than 4,500 cases reported in 2014.

Water quality often degrades once water enters buildings, and it could expose occupants to hazards such as microbial pathogens, toxic chemicals and physical hazards. NSF 444 seeks to provide a methodology for the systematic analysis of building water systems and the application of control measures necessary to prevent harm and to maintain public health.

“The development of NSF 444 and this MOU with ASHRAE represent NSF International’s commitment to helping assure water quality in areas that impact human health,” said Jessica Evans, Director of Standards at NSF International. “NSF 444 is the first NSF standard to address building water quality and our working relationship with ASHRAE will help us contribute expertise to this important area of the water quality industry.”

“This MOU represents a commitment by both ASHRAE and NSF International to enhance our working relationship and emphasize the importance of managing safe, quality building water systems,” said ASHRAE President Tim Wentz. “We hope to increase industry attention on this emerging public health issue and, ultimately, improve awareness and understanding.”

U.S. public health and environmental organizations at the state and federal levels, members of ASHRAE, private healthcare systems, academia and those in the water industry are participating on the joint committee to develop this standard. This standard is expected to be released in 2017.

The MOU will ensure the ongoing advancement of future collaborative projects with ASHRAE, and jointly continue to educate the industry about the importance of building water health initiatives.

Recent CDC report on Legionnaires’ disease cases associated with health care facility water systems underscores the need for a comprehensive building water health standard

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – NSF International, a global public health and safety organization, is developing a building water health standard to help building owners and operators evaluate and minimize the risk of disease and injury associated with building water systems. The new standard, NSF 444, will address growing public concern about building water health, including recent findings on Legionnaires’ disease cases reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Based on a CDC analysis of data from 20 states and New York City, 76 percent of reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease were found to be associated with health care facilities. This finding highlights the risk of Legionella bacteria exposure for patients, especially in long-term care facilities and hospitals. This is not the first time the CDC has warned about health risks associated with building water systems.

In June 2016, CDC Vital Signs stated that reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease had nearly quadrupled since 2004 with 5,000 diagnosed cases in 2014. Water management problems were cited as one of the main causes of these outbreaks.1

In addition, the CDC published a toolkit for building owners and managers, Developing a Water Management Program to Reduce Legionella Growth & Spread in Buildings: A Practical Guide to Implementing Industry Standards.

Legionnaires’ disease is a serious lung infection contracted by inhaling small droplets of water that contain Legionella bacteria. According to the CDC report, one in four people who contract Legionnaires’ disease from a health care facility will die as a result.

NSF International is recognized as a global leader in water quality and safety. Founded in 1944, NSF International developed the American National Standards for all materials and products that treat or come in contact with drinking water to help protect public health and the environment and minimize adverse health effects. Today, NSF International is also focusing on building water health – or the health and safety of water once it enters a building. NSF International’s building water health program provides a variety of services including independent auditing of building water systems and products, development of water safety plans to minimize the risks associated with water in buildings and Legionella risk assessments for building water systems.

In facilitating development of a building water health standard, NSF International will help establish the minimum requirements and expectations necessary to prevent disease and injury from physical, chemical and microbial hazards. The standard NSF 444: Prevention of Injury and Disease Associated with Building Water Systems will establish minimum requirements for the design, construction, commissioning, operation, maintenance, repair, replacement and expansion of new and existing building water systems (potable and non-potable). The new standard applies to human-occupied commercial, institutional, multi-unit residential and industrial buildings as well as entertainment venues, such as concert halls and sports arenas. This standard does not apply to single-family residential buildings. The new building water health standard is expected to be finalized and published in 2018.

Interested stakeholders are invited to participate in the standard development process facilitated by NSF International. Health care providers, water authorities, public health departments and other interested parties can participate in the joint committee tasked with developing the new building water health standard.

For more information on NSF International’s building water health-related standards, contact Jessica Evans at jevans@nsf.org or call +1 734 913 5774.

Editor’s Note: Media interested in more information can contact Liz Nowland-Margolis at media@nsf.org or +01-734-418-6624.

About NSF International: NSF International is a global independent organization that writes standards, and tests and certifies products for the water, food, health sciences and consumer goods industries to minimize adverse health effects and protect the environment (nsf.org). Founded in 1944, NSF is committed to protecting human health and safety worldwide. Operating in more than 170 countries, NSF International is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center on Food Safety, Water Quality and Indoor Environment.

NSF International’s water services include certification of products that come in contact with drinking water, such as plumbing components, water treatment chemicals and drinking water filters, as well as pool and spa equipment and chemicals. NSF led the development of the American National Standards for all materials and products that treat or come in contact with drinking water to help protect public health. In 1990, the U.S. EPA replaced its drinking water product advisory program requirements by referencing NSF International standards. Today, 48 of 50 states and both major national plumbing codes require accredited third-party certification to NSF International standards for pipes and plumbing components in commercial and residential buildings.

1https://www.cdc.gov/stltpublichealth/townhall/presentations/2016/vs-june.pdf