Health & Safety

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Legionnaires' Disease Link to Screen Wash Bottles

30 June 2010

The CWU Health, Safety and Environment Department have been making enquires with the HSE, HPA and Employers to gauge the extent of risk to drivers and recommended precautions following the publication of a report linking Legionnaires' Disease to windscreen washer water bottles.

windscreen washer water jets spraying screen

The preliminary study from the UK's Health Protection Agency (HPA) was published on 14 June and received widespread media coverage. It found an association between not using screen wash in wiper fluid and the risk of contracting Legionnaires' disease.

According to the study, motorists who do not use screen wash fluid in the washer water bottles of their cars are at an increased risk of contracting the potentially dangerous Legionnaires' disease. Legionnaires' disease is commonly linked to water systems such as air conditioning units, showers and fountains, where water is given off in a fine spray.

The HPA study found that the stagnant water used in car windscreen washer bottles may be a place where the bacteria thrive and may be responsible for nearly 20% of the cases of disease. Health experts noted that the risk of being infected with the deadly bug was five times higher for professional drivers as opposed to the general population. Bacteriology experts have advised that the Legionella bacterium lives in the environment and will take advantage of warm water systems that are not cleaned out. Warm stagnant water, such as that in a screen wash bottle, near a warm engine, may be a breeding ground for the Legionella bacterium. When the small droplets of the contaminated water is sprayed through jets on to the windscreen, droplets may be inhaled, and could possibly cause the potentially fatal lung infection.

The problem can be avoided simply by adding screen wash, which not only kills but also stops the growth of bacteria. Experts found traces of Legionella bacterium in cars without screen wash. In contrast there were no such incidents when the additive had been added.

It should be remembered that this is only a preliminary report of a small study and it has been recommended that further studies are now undertaken to further explore these findings.

Legionnaires' disease

Legionnaires' disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia that is caused by the bacteria Legionella. It can affect anybody, but is dangerous in the aged, those with underlying health problems and those with a weak immune system. The bacteria is commonly found in soil, ponds, artificial water systems, and air conditioning systems. It is contracted when small droplets of contaminated water are breathed in. It cannot spread from person to person. The symptoms of the disease include severe lung infection, accompanied by fever, cough, and myalgias. The onset of the infection is abrupt, after an incubation period of two to ten days. The disease is treated by intravenous antibiotics.

Screen wash

Most commercial brand screen wash contains Methanol, Isopropanol, detergent and water. Always ensure that anti-bacterial screen wash is always used in washer systems as a precautionary preventative measure.