Legionnaires’: Distillery shuts as cooling tower comes under scrutiny

The North British Distillery Company building in Gorgie. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The North British Distillery Company building in Gorgie. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A DISTILLERY being investigated as one of the potential sources of a lethal outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease has stopped production following a health and safety warning,

• Health and safety body serve distillery company with notice for failure to control risk of Legionnaires’ disease

• All three cooling towers in Wheatfield Road have been shut down by company

• Issuing of improvement notice ‘does not mean that this cooling tower has been identified as source of outbreak’

The move came as news of 13 further confirmed and suspected cases of the disease were announced, taking the total number of people being treated to 74.

Fourteen people are now critically ill in hospital with Legionnaires’.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) yesterday served an Improvement Notice on North British Distillery Company for alleged failures in adequately controlling the risk of legionella in one of the cooling towers at its Edinburgh site.

It refers to the company’s tower in Wheatfield Road, in the Gorgie area of the south west of the city, where most of the people who have fallen ill either live or work. Around 100 people are employed at the distillery.

The tower was one of 23 in the city to have been “shock treated” with chemicals to kill off any legionella and tested for traces of the bug.

An HSE spokeswoman said: “The notice was served for a failure to devise and implement a sustained and effective biocide control programme in one cooling tower.”

The HSE issues notices if it finds correct procedures are not being followed. It can then ask for urgent action to be taken to improve safety and set a deadline for the work.

A spokesman for North British Distillery said the company – a grain distiller for a number of top blended whisky brands including The Famous Grouse, Black Label, Cutty Sark and Johnnie Walker – had stopped distillation at its Edinburgh site since Thursday,

He said: “We voluntarily took our three cooling towers off-line until the legionella results from samples taken earlier this week are reported. While this precautionary operation is under way we have temporarily ceased distillation.

“Ensuring the health and safety of our employees and the local community is our highest priority. Our thoughts are clearly with the families of those affected by this situation.”

Health secretary Nicola Sturgeon said investigations were continuing at the five other sites being looked at as the source of the disease, which has already claimed the life of father-of-two Robert Aird, 56, of Edinburgh.

She said: “Investigations into the source of this outbreak are continuing. It is important to note that in issuing this notice the HSE does not believe there is an immediate risk to workers or members of the public. Nor can it be assumed that this tower is the source of the outbreak.

“Investigations into all of the other towers in the area are continuing.”

The Scottish Government last night revealed people in four other parts of the UK are being treated for Legionnaire’s, one in Glasgow, one in Lanarkshire, one in Tayside and another in the north of England. All of them are believed to have visited Edinburgh recently.

A total of 28 people have now been confirmed as having Legionnaires’ disease and another 46 are suspected of having it. Ten patients have improved enough to be sent home from hospital, health chiefs said.

Ms Sturgeon said contingency plans had been made in case of a further rise in patients.

She said: “As we expected, we have seen a rise in the number of cases associated with this outbreak.

“NHS Lothian continues to be very busy and contact has been made with other health boards in case capacity at other hospitals is required.”

She said the risk to the public remained “low” and stressed that the bug could not be passed from person to person or from drinking water.

Dr Duncan McCormick, consultant in public health medicine at NHS Lothian, warned more cases were likely to emerge this weekend as it can take up to a fortnight for people who have been infected to show symptoms.

He said: “We expect that the numbers of patients affected will peak over the weekend and then begin to fall as we move into the beginning of next week

“We’re doing everything we can in terms of early diagnosis, appropriate treatment and intensive care, but I think we can’t rule out any further deaths at this stage.”