Exclusive: Property owners unaware of cooling tower regulations in wake of Legionnaires' outbreak

LONG ISLAND (WABC) -- The deadly outbreak of Legionnaires' disease in the Bronx that sickened dozens of people last summer brought fear across the city and proompted the state Department of Health to pass a regulation requiring the owners of all cooling towers to register them with the state.

The deadline to do that was three months ago, but Eyewitness News found that many towers remain unregistered.

Many property owners on Long Island and in Queens say they're not registered because they had no idea about the state regulation. They didn't want to appear on camera, but they say they were never notified by the state.

We researched the online database and found that many properties are missing. For example, one cooling tower at a hotel in Ronkonkoma that is on street level in a parking lot does not appear in the database.

State officials acknowledged that towers may be missing from the online registry because they're relying on property owners to come forward on their own.

"To raise awareness of the requirements, the department has undertaken a multifaceted outreach campaign consisting of meetings and presentations to a number of stakeholder groups, including professional organizations and owner associations," health department spokesperson JP O'Hare said.

Dick Dadey, with government watchdog group Citizens Union, says it is clear that this regulation is falling short.

"It falls to the state to follow up and implement a policy," he said. "To move forward with a new policy and not be able to see any evidence of strong implementation, and to have the Department of Health not even know how many properties with cooling towers they're looking at, and what their policy is for following up on those who don't comply raises serious questions about the effectiveness of this policy."

Health department officials say those who fail to comply with the regulation could face civil and even criminal penalties. But still, the question remains can they be held responsible for something they weren't made aware of?

We reached out to the governor's office for comment, but our calls were not returned.

The New York State Department of Health cooling tower registry can be found by CLICKING HERE.
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