Professor calls for cash to prevent deadly bug return

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A LEADING scientist has called for tighter regulation of the way cooling towers are maintained to prevent future outbreaks of legionnaires’ disease.

Professor Hugh Pennington said the Scottish Government should be investing more money in ensuring cooling towers were properly cleaned to avoid the huge costs of dealing with a large-scale outbreak.

Three people died and more than 100 were suspected to have caught the disease following an outbreak in the Capital earlier this year. The source is widely believed to have been a cooling tower in the Gorgie/Dalry area of the city.

There has been growing pressure for a public inquiry into the outbreak, a move which has now been backed by Prof Pennington, who believes it will provide important lessons for the future.

His call was prompted by information from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, which suggested it would be “optimistic” to assume inspections were held even once a decade at the hundreds of cooling towers in the UK.

“It’s a nasty bug, the infection is preventable and it’s a very expensive thing to treat when it happens,” he said. “Spending more money on the regulatory side, making sure businesses have their cooling towers in order, would be money well spent.

Prof Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, added: “Something went badly wrong in Edinburgh. A public inquiry would be the most effective way to establish the facts and to prevent yet more outbreaks.”

His call has been backed by the Scottish Labour Party, whose health spokeswoman, Jackie Baillie, said: “Prof Pennington’s intervention is significant and his authoritative voice should be a reason for the Scottish Government to pause and reflect on their decision not to have an independent inquiry into this outbreak.

“There are real fears that the inspection regimes that the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities have are inadequate and are failing to protect citizens from these fatal outbreaks.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “Clearly the 100-plus people who were affected, not to mention the families of those who died, need answers. A one-off problem caused significant levels of ill-health and public alarm, and we need to try and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

“It is critical that any investigation is transparent, wide-ranging and speedy.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “It would be entirely inappropriate to comment on a public inquiry at this time. The Health and Safety Executive is continuing its inquiries and any consideration of a public inquiry would have to wait until their investigations are complete.”