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Shutdown Recommendations and Procedures for HVAC Cooling Towers
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As the leaves begin to change and temperatures drop, it indicates the start of fall, but also the time to shut down HVAC Cooling Towers. Guidelines from the Cooling Technology Institute, CDC, and OSHA all state that cooling towers should be professionally cleaned and disinfected before winter lay-up as part of a healthy Water Management Plan. 
With human health and safety at the forefront of all of our businesses today, it is more important than ever that we follow guidelines provided by reputable organizations that you see outlined above. A properly cleaned cooling tower followed by Legionella culturing is extremely critical for minimizing risk of transmission of Legionnaires’ disease. 
Below is an excerpt from OSHA’s guidance document titled “Control and Prevention of Legionellosis in Cooling Towers”
OSHA Recommendations
Preventing Legionella growth through cleaning will reduce the likelihood for exposure. Considerations for cleaning water systems in the workplace include:
  • Cleaning and disinfecting cooling towers at least twice a year. Normally, this maintenance is performed before initial start-up when the cooling season begins and after shut-down in the fall. Systems with heavy biofouling or high Legionella levels in samples may require additional cleaning (see the Outbreak Response page for more information).
  • Cleaning and disinfecting systems that are out of service for an extended period of time.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting new systems. Construction material residue can contribute to Legionella growth in new systems.
What does the CDC recommended cooling tower cleaning look like:
CDC Procedure for Cleaning Cooling Towers and Related Equipment
Perform these steps prior to chemical disinfection and mechanical cleaning.
  1. Provide protective equipment to workers who perform the disinfection, to prevent their exposure to chemicals used for disinfection and aerosolized water containing Legionella spp. Protective equipment may include full-length protective clothing, boots, gloves, goggles, and a full- or half-face mask that combines a HEPA filter and chemical cartridges to protect against airborne chlorine levels of up to 10 mg/L.
  2. Shut off cooling tower.
    • Shut off the heat source, if possible.
    • Shut off fans, if present, on the cooling tower/evaporative condenser (CT/EC).
    • Shut off the system blowdown (i.e., purge) valve.
    • Shut off the automated blowdown controller, if present, and set the system controller to manual.
    • Keep make-up water valves open.
    • Close building air-intake vents within at least 30 meters of the CT/EC until after the cleaning procedure is complete.
    • Continue operating pumps for water circulation through the CT/EC.
Perform these chemical disinfection procedures.
  1. Add fast-release, chlorine-containing disinfectant in pellet, granular, or liquid form, and follow safety instructions on the product label. Use EPA-registered products, if available. Examples of disinfectants include sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl) or calcium hypochlorite (Ca[OCl]2), calculated to achieve initial free residual chlorine (FRC) of 50 mg/L: either
    • 3.0 lbs [1.4 kg] industrial grade NaOCl [12%–15% available Cl] per 1,000 gallons of CT/EC water
    • 10.5 lbs [4.8 kg] domestic grade NaOCl [3%–5% available Cl] per 1,000 gallons of CT/EC water; or
    • 0.6 lb [0.3 kg] Ca[OCl]2 per 1,000 gallons of CT/EC water. If significant biodeposits are present, additional chlorine may be required. If the volume of water in the CT/EC is unknown, it can be estimated (in gallons) by multiplying either the recirculation rate in gallons per minute by 10 or the refrigeration capacity in tons by 30. Other appropriate compounds may be suggested by a water-treatment specialist.
  2. Record the type and quality of all chemicals used for disinfection, the exact time the chemicals were added to the system, and the time and results of FRC and pH measurements.
  3. Add dispersant simultaneously with or within 15 minutes of adding disinfectant. The dispersant is best added by first dissolving it in water and adding the solution to a turbulent zone in the water system. Automatic-dishwasher compounds are examples of low- or nonfoaming, silicate-based dispersants. Dispersants are added at 10–25 lbs (4.5–11.25 kg) per 1,000 gallons of CT/EC water.
  4. After adding disinfectant and dispersant, continue circulating the water through the system. Monitor the FRC by using an FRC-measuring device with the DPD method (e.g., a swimming-pool test kit), and measure the pH with a pH meter every 15 minutes for 2 hours. Add chlorine as needed to maintain the FRC at ≥10 mg/L. Because the biocidal effect of chlorine is reduced at a higher pH, adjust the pH to 7.5–8.0. The pH may be lowered by using any acid (e.g., nuriatic acid or sulfuric acid used for maintenance of swimming pools) that is compatible with the treatment chemicals.
  5. Two hours after adding disinfectant and dispersant or after the FRC level is stable at ≥10 mg/L, monitor at 2-hour intervals and maintain the FRC at ≥10 mg/L for 24 hours.
  6. After the FRC level has been maintained at ≥10 mg/L for 24 hours, drain the system. CT/EC water may be drained safely into the sanitary sewer. Municipal water and sewerage authorities should be contacted regarding local regulations. If a sanitary sewer is not available, consult local or state authorities (e.g., a department of natural resources or environmental protection) regarding disposal of water. If necessary, the drain-off may be dechlorinated by dissipation or chemical neutralization with sodium bisulfite.
  7. Refill the system with water and repeat the procedure outline in steps 2–7 in I-B above.
Perform mechanical cleaning.
  1. After water from the second chemical disinfection has been drained, shut down the CT/EC.
  2. Inspect all water-contact areas for sediment, sludge, and scale. Using brushes and/or a low-pressure water hose, thoroughly clean all CT/EC water-contact areas, including the basin, sump, fill, spray nozzles, and fittings. Replace components as needed.
  3. If possible, clean CT/EC water-contact areas within the chillers.
Perform these procedures after mechanical cleaning.
  1. Fill the system with water and add chlorine to achieve an FRC level of 10 mg/L.
  2. Circulate the water for 1 hour, then open the blowdown valve and flush the entire system until the water is free of turbidity.
  3. Drain the system.
  4. Open any air-intake vents that were closed before cleaning.
  5. Fill the system with water. The CT/EC may be put back into service using an effective water-treatment program. 
Cooling Layup Procedure
Watertech's Cooling Layup Procedure helps prevent microbiological growth and positions you for a hasselfree start-up in spring. Click the image below to download this file.
Final Thoughts
Traditional water treatment programs are only meant for scale/corrosion and mild bacteria control, not full pathogen risk management. Additional measures, including adopting a Legionella specific Water Management Program followed by testing for Legionella will help decrease disease risk for your employees and contractors who work on or near these bacteria-harboring cooling towers. Contact a water safety specific consultant to help adopt a plan that suits your facility best.

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