Legionella discovery raises concerns

Committee RoomEarlier this week it was reported that the legionella bacteria had been detected at the Edinburgh Tram Depot in Gogar.

The bacteria are responsible for pneumonia like illnesses, the most serious of which is Legionnaires disease.

The discovery at Gogar occurred last September, shortly after the outbreak in Edinburgh which led to over 100 confirmed or suspected cases and three deaths.

The legionella bacteria is widespread in natural water systems, but the risk of illness mainly occurs in man-made systems where water is maintained at a higher temperature which encourages growth. Fortunately, the concentration of legionella at Gogar was found to be low and the Council acted swiftly to address safety concerns.

Irrespective of the level of bacteria that was detected the latest discovery will understandably provoke public concern and I believe it once again underlines the need for a public inquiry to establish the circumstances of the outbreak last summer.

An important aspect of this is how the agencies involved reacted to the outbreak.  Following confirmation of cases of Legionnaires, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Council inspection teams began conducting tests of suspected sites to identify the source.

However, when I asked the question about staffing levels at the Council last summer it emerged that the previous council administration had cut the number of Environmental Health Officers by a quarter in the last year and reports last June identified cuts to HSE inspections. This begs the question as to whether the council and HSE had enough people on the ground to react fast enough to the situation when it emerged.

An inquiry would allow for this information to be brought out into the open to ensure that lessons could be learned which would avoid a similar situation happening again in future.