If poorly maintained or managed, wet cooling towers can cause legionnaires' disease. For that reason it is important to know where these installations are located.

Wet cooling towers are installations which are used to remove excess heat from production processes and buildings by misting water in an open construction. If they are insufficiently maintained and managed, wet cooling towers are well-known sources of legionella bacteria. A legionella infection can lead to legionnaires' disease. This is a serious illness which resembles pneumonia. Legionnaires' disease can have lasting effects on people's health, or can even be fatal.

Wet cooling towers are known throughout the world as being a key source of infection, as the Netherlands has already experienced. In 2006 there was a legionnaires' disease outbreak due to a poorly maintained wet cooling tower at the Post CS building in Amsterdam. This led to more than 30 people falling ill (a few chronically) and three deaths. 

The known locations of cooling towers are shown on the cooling tower map. On this map users who have logged in can also report any cooling towers which are not yet displayed on the map.

edited January 12th 2018

Legionnaires' disease is an infection of the airways and lungs. The infection is caused by the legionella bacteria. Legionnaires' disease is a regular occurrence in the Netherlands. There is also a second manifestation of the illness, namely Pontiac fever, a much less serious form which occurs more frequently in the Netherlands. Pontiac fever is not discussed in any greater detail here.

Symptoms of legionnaires' disease

Most people do not become ill after they have been infected. If symptoms do appear, it usually happens five to six days after the infection (with a possible variation of between two and twenty days). Legionnaires' disease begins with a mild fever, muscle pain and generally feeling unwell. After a couple of days the sufferer experiences pneumonia and a high body temperature (more than 39 degrees Celsius) and cold shivers. If you experience any symptoms which might indicate legionnaires' disease, you should consult a doctor. The disease can be confirmed by laboratory tests. In the event of serious pneumonia the disease can be life-threatening because other organs are damaged by the bacteria. In serious cases people can die.

Sources of infection

The misting of water (in wet cooling towers but also, for example, in showers or whirlpools) can spread bacteria through the air where it can be inhaled. You cannot catch legionnaires' disease by drinking water infected with legionella. People cannot infect each other with the legionella bacteria.

Extra sensitive population groups

Anyone can become infected with the legionella bacteria. People who often come into contact with misted water run a greater risk of infection. Elderly people, people who are not physically fit, and people who smoke run a greater risk of catching legionnaires' disease. However, even healthy people can catch legionnaires' disease.

Precautionary measures

There is no vaccination against the legionella infection. Measures therefore focus on preventing the spread of legionella bacteria into the air wherever possible, for example by preventing the bacteria being able to grow into large quantities.

edited January 12th 2018

The Environmental Management Act [Wet milieubeheer] stipulates that anyone who uses a wet cooling tower must maintain and manage it properly in order to control the risk of legionella infection. In particular, municipalities and provincial governments are responsible for supervising compliance with those regulations.

It is estimated that there are around 4,000 wet cooling towers in the Netherlands but, up to now, the locations of only around 30% are known. One of the reasons for this is that many cooling towers are difficult to see because they are, for example, located on, or even inside, a roof. In connection with the prevention of legionnaires' disease and the rapid detection of the source in the event of an outbreak of legionnaires' disease, it is important that as many wet cooling towers as possible are listed in the Atlas. Anyone who sees a (possible) wet cooling tower which is not listed in the Atlas can simply locate this.

What is the government doing?

Municipalities are the designated supervisory bodies on the grounds of the Environmental Management Act [Wet milieubeheer] for the majority of the wet cooling towers.

The provincial governments are the supervisory bodies for the wet cooling towers at a limited number of (larger) facilities. Environmental services [Omgevingsdiensten] are responsible for the enforcement of the rules concerning wet cooling towers. Lastly the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate is responsible for supervising and enforcing in the case of several dozen wet cooling towers at certain Ministry of Defence facilities.

The supervisory bodies are expected to add all the wet cooling towers they have knowledge of in the Atlas of the Living Environment to ensure that the locations are known to the general public.

edited January 12th 2018

Anyone can list a possible wet cooling tower. Below there is a short description of how to do so. You can find more information in the Step-by-step plan for listing Wet Cooling Towers.

A.) Create account

Before you can start listing (presumed) wet cooling towers, you first have to create an account. All you need is a username (screen name) and a valid e-mail address.

You can then proceed as follows:

  1. Click 'register' in the top right-hand corner.
  2. Click 'create account'.
  3. Enter a screen name (username) (you can think of one yourself but you do have to remember it for future notifications), a temporary password (once again no requirements apply and it is a one-off password so you do not have to remember it) and your e-mail address. You have to enter the temporary password again under 'Enter again'.
  4. Indicate that you approve the Atlas conditions (you can study these if you wish). Then click Save. A verification code will have been sent to the e-mail address you have given.
  5. Copy the series of numbers and letters from the mail and place them in the box under E-mail verification code and then click Verify.
  6. Enter a new password (this must not be the same as the password you previously gave!) and then enter it underneath once again and click Save.
  7. At Question, choose a reminder question and then fill in the answer to the question at Answer. This is needed in the event that you forget your password. Click Save and on the screen a text will be displayed to the effect that you have registered and have access to an account.

B.) Reporting a wet cooling tower

  1. Go to the wet cooling towers map.
  2. On the map go (via enter location or zoom out and in) to the location at which you have seen one or more (possible) wet cooling towers and zoom in as much as possible.
  3. Fold down the menu at the top right and select 'Natte koeltorens melden'.
  4. Click 'prik locatie' and click the right location on the map.
  5. Then fill in the rest of the fields and click 'melden'.

Your notification of the wet cooling tower has now started. The competent authority will be sent an e-mail. If your notification is approved, the cooling tower will appear on the map.

edited January 12th 2018