City Council Passes Bill Aimed at Limiting Future Legionnaires’ Outbreaks


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Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, listened as Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the health commissioner, spoke at a news conference on Thursday.

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Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

With New York City’s largest ever outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease apparently waning, the City Council passed a bill on Thursday intended to thwart future spread of the illness.

The legislation, which was developed by Mayor Bill de Blasio; the Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito; and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, requires building owners to conduct quarterly inspections of cooling towers, which have been pinpointed as the source of the outbreak. Owners must provide annual certification that their towers have been inspected, tested, cleaned and disinfected. The legislation also requires building owners to carry out a maintenance plan and to register any cooling towers, or face fines and potential prison time, depending on the severity of the transgression.

“We’re in the midst of a crisis in New York City, and this Council is taking swift action to address what is happening,” Ms. Mark-Viverito, a Democrat, said.

The legislation on the cooling towers was one of several measures passed by the Council on Thursday, including a package of three bills that expanded protections for rent-regulated tenants.

At a news conference in the Bronx, Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, praised the new legislation, which he plans to sign into law next week.

“I think this is going to allow us to have all the tools we need to protect the health and safety of our fellow New Yorkers going forward,” he said.

The outbreak has killed 12 people out of 121 who took ill, city officials said.

Noting that “a month ago, this is something that none of us were talking about,” Mr. de Blasio said the episode in recent weeks “educated all of us about a new way of doing things.”

During that time, though, the mayor and his team scrambled to rebut suggestions — including from two fellow Democrats: Mr. Cuomo and Scott M. Stringer, the city comptroller — that the city’s health department was slow-footed in addressing the problem.

Several public health experts have been more generous, and on Thursday, the de Blasio administration had one in tow: Dr. Matthew R. Moore, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mr. de Blasio and Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the city health commissioner, turned often to Dr. Moore to field reporters’ questions, at times posing their own to him.

Dr. Moore described the city’s response as “swift, very diligent and robust.”

Asked about the criticisms from other elected officials, Mr. de Blasio said he preferred to “listen to medical personnel when it comes to medical matters.”

He added, “I think politicians need to learn to help the public by letting the experts do the talking as much as possible.”

The mayor also cast the city as a leader on Legionnaires’ legislation, pointing out that Mr. Cuomo plans to use the bill as a framework for a statewide measure.

“They thought it was a strong model,” he said.

The legislation indeed makes New York City among the first municipalities with such regulations for cooling towers, and certainly the most high profile. Many experts, who have championed more stringent standards for years, see the new regulations as a potential model for the rest of the country.

“This legislation is a breakthrough in terms of strategies for disease surveillance in the United States,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University and a special adviser to Mr. de Blasio. “As far as I know, no other major city has this degree of specificity to monitor water systems for dangerous microbes that lead to things like Legionnaires’.”

Patrick Racine, a vice president of Eldon Water, an industrial water management company that often works with cooling towers, said the city was taking a “proactive approach.”

“The legislation is well written and not overreaching and it does a good job of referencing existing standards,” he said.

Still, Mr. Racine expressed some disappointment at the bill’s scope. “Domestic hot-water systems in complex buildings, like hospitals, are the biggest source of the disease,” he said, “and it’s a shame the city isn’t capitalizing on this moment to address the issue more broadly.”

The legislation regarding rent-regulated tenants focuses on how buyout offers are handled by landlords who are looking to sell their buildings, convert them to condominiums or co-ops, or raise rents. The package of three bills is intended to prevent landlords from pressuring or harassing rent-regulated tenants who are reluctant to leave.

Among other measures, the legislation set parameters for how persistent a landlord can be. Once tenants notify an owner or building agent that they are not interested in a buyout, owners are no longer permitted to reach out to the tenants about an offer for 180 days, unless the tenants state in writing that they have had a change of heart, or a judge authorizes the contact.



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