Can Car Washes Spread Legionnaires’ Disease?
If you’ve ever asked yourself is my local car wash safe from the dangers of Legionnaires’ disease then read on. For many of us, washing our car is a job to be done on the weekends. Many people wash theirs by hand using hoses, buckets, and sponges on their driveways and outside their homes. Others go to an automatic car wash to take the hard work out of the task… but is it safe?
Most people will head to a car wash and have no issues whatsoever. They’ll get their car cleaned and that’s that. But recent reports have noted that a couple of people in Italy contracted Legionnaires’ disease – and it is believed they did so after visiting a car wash.
Are car washes dangerous?
The answer to this question is no – and it is important to point this out. To date we have heard of no incidents where a Legionnaires’ case has arisen in the UK directly from a vehicle wash, and this story in Italy is the first we have heard occurring anywhere.
Conditions for legionella bacteria to grow
However, car washes by their very nature use a lot of water which is used as part of the washing process, the used water is then recycled and stored, sometimes for long periods without circulation which can cause it to stagnate. As part of their operation they also create mist and spray, and these are all conditions that can encourage the growth of legionella bacteria, which could then easily be dispersed through a contaminated water spray (or aerosol) to be inhaled by someone close by.
The car wash, in this instance, is no different from any other water system that creates a spray or mist. Cooling towers, decorative fountains and showers are similar in this respect.
Are UK car washes safe from Legionnaires’ disease?
The good news is that Health and Safety regulations in the UK are written to ensure business owners must comply with requirements regarding the control of legionella bacteria and other associated risks. The Health & Safety Executives ACOP L8 covers what you need to do and it is a recommended read if you’re not already familiar with your legal obligations in this area.
Any business owner whose company has a water system, from a car wash to a cooling tower, should have an up to date legionella risk assessment in place covering the water systems at their premises. They should also have a system whereby they can check bacteria levels and treat the water to keep dangerous bugs in-check and so keep the system as safe as possible. It is only when such procedures are not followed that there may be a risk that legionella bacteria could multiply beyond safe limits and so increase the risks from Legionnaires’ disease.
Cleaning your car the old fashioned way
If you are now wondering whether to forget about taking your car to the car wash, do remember that cleaning it the old fashioned way does have its risks. Garden hoses filled with stagnant water and left out in the sun could pose an even greater risk. People have contracted Legionnaires’ disease after coming into contact with spray from their garden hose, so do store it dry, and flush it through thoroughly before using it to wash your car.
What to do if you own a car wash
In the UK car washes are safe, but it is always wise for business owners to be aware of the potential risks and implement the precautionary measures highlighted by the Health & Safety Executive to protect their customers, staff and others.
Legionella and water safety specialists
Our teams of water safety specialists support those responsible for the control of waterborne pathogens including Legionella bacteria across all regions of the UK and internationally. We deliver professional water safety risk assessments, water testing, independent compliance auditing, City & Guilds training and other environmental risk management services that help keep people safe.
If you have questions about any of the issues raised above or you would like to speak with one of our legionella specialists please call us today on 0330 223 36 87 or contact us here.