What is Legionella?

Legionella is a bacteria usually found in water and thrives in temperatures of 68 degrees – 120 degrees Fahrenheit. While there are almost 50 species of Legionella, not all are harmful. Legionella pneumophila is considered the most dangerous as it causes 90% of the cases of infection. It’s often found in hot water tanks, large plumbing systems, hot tubs, cooling towers, and decorative fountains.

People contract the disease by breathing in a mist/vapor containing the bacteria. When these mists or vapors are contained in confined spaces or enclosed rooms, they may become more concentrated and have more of an ability to affect people. This situation often happens indoors, which is why this can be considered an indoor air quality problem. Many healthy people do not contract the disease and it is not spread person to person.

Who is at risk for Legionnaires’ Disease?

People at a higher risk of Legionnaire’s Disease include:

  • People over 50
  • Those with a weak immune system
  • Current or past cigarette users.

Pneumonia like symptoms (muscle aches, high fever, headaches, cough, and shortness of breath) are usually the first symptoms of this disease and start within 2 to 10 days after being exposed to the bacteria.

The Insurance Risks of Legionella to Businesses

  • Bodily Injury: physical injury, sickness, disease, mental anguish/emotional distress, and even death. The primary financial costs to a business affected by Legionella are the costs associated with Bodily Injury claims. The CDC estimated over $300,000,000 in medical costs alone annually. According to the EPA, the value of a human life in the U.S. was valued at over $9 million.
  • The cost of source investigation/cleanup/restoration/monitoring. (Costs can exceed $30,000 to detoxify just one cooling tower).
  • Negative publicity and stigma attached to business.
  • Business income interruption (an example would be a water tower taken off line).
  • Legal/defense costs for the source location, as well as the other properties or businesses it affected. In some instances, environmental regulatory agencies or health departments may assess fines against these businesses also.

Environmental Insurance for Legionella Exposure

There are a number of specialty insurance companies that can offer some level of protection. Premises Pollution Liability covers 3rd party liability for pollution incidents at/on or emanating from covered locations. In addition to Bodily Injury and 3rd party property damage coverage, clean up coverage for pollutants, both on and offsite, may be included. Defense coverage is usually within the policy limits and deductibles/retentions can be as low as $5,000.

Check out some of our articles on Legionella and Legionnaires disease:

Health and Fitness Clubs: Expensive Environmental Exposures to Watch Out For in 2019

Pollution Exposures for Condo Associations

Beyond Mold: Overlooked Pollution Exposures for Commercial, Residential, and Hospitality Risks

A “real uptick in claims” for Legionnaires’ Disease

Site Pollution Liability on Beachfront Properties: The Tale of a Hidden Exposure