QUEBEC - The Quebec government promised to take action to curb legionnaires' disease following a public scolding Friday from the mayor of Quebec City.
Two hours after the mayor slammed the provincial government for ignoring a 15-year-old local report, two provincial ministers announced a series of measures to hold building owners legally responsible for maintaining their cooling systems.
Health Minister Yves Bolduc and Labour Minister Lise Theriault said such regulations would be introduced this fall, more than a decade after the measure was suggested in a municipal report following the last such outbreak in Quebec City.
Since the middle of July, authorities in Quebec City have reported 65 cases of legionnaires' disease, including six deaths. While more cases are expected to surface in the coming days, authorities believe the outbreak has now been contained.
The deadly bacteria grow in the dirty cooling systems of building towers, spreading in little droplets through the air conditioning.
"The moment these regulations are in place, that means as of fall 2012, owners will have to do maintenance before starting the device," Theriault said. "There will also be things like preventive maintenance four or five times a month in periods of heavy use."
Among other measures to be introduced, a registry will be established so that owners can certify that the procedures are being followed. Failure to comply will result in fines of up to $25,000 for individuals and $75,000 for businesses.
The announcement came just hours after Mayor Regis Labeaume expressed frustration at the province for ignoring his municipal health authority's 1997 recommendation.
"I'm indignant over this indifference," said the populist mayor.
"But I don't want a witch-hunt to find those responsible… Perhaps at the time there were less building towers with cooling towers but that's not an excuse. Not an excuse. For matters of public health, we have to be vigilant."
The source of the bacteria in Quebec City is believed to stem from two building towers. Tests are still being conducted.
People with weak immune systems and heavy smokers are most at risk of catching the disease. Symptoms include persistent fever, coughing and difficulty breathing.