Hidden health risk in our hot water tank

The safety and effectiveness of stainless steel hot water cylinders has been challenged after a major research project has linked the risk of legionella contamination (Legionnaire’s Disease) to their use.

The Centre for Sustainable Technologies (CST) at the University of Ulster together with manufacturing company, Copper Industries, have analysed hot water cylinders made from stainless steel against those made from copper.

Their research tackles the ‘copper versus stainless steel’ debate which the plumbing industry has faced since stainless steel was introduced as a cheaper alternative to copper in the mid 90s.

While copper cylinder production is highly regulated, the report identifies the lack of such standards and guidelines for the production of stainless steel hot water cylinders. This has led to substandard production practices and cheap foreign imports, resulting poor quality cylinders which are prone to internal corrosion, being installed in homes and work premises.

The report also identifies how corroded stainless steel tanks encourage the growth of legionella bacteria, resulting in legionnaire’s disease and other respiratory illnesses which are potentially lethal to vulnerable groups.

With an estimated 40% of properties now relying on stainless steel tanks, this presents an obvious risk to householders and well as hospitals, residential/nursing homes and the hospitality sector.

To minimise the risk and safeguard users, the University of Ulster and Copper Industries are calling for the introduction of British Standard/ EU guidelines for the manufacture of stainless steel storage cylinders, bringing it on equal par with the copper manufacturing industry.

Mark Anderson from the University of Ulster said:

“The report has identified the need for more comprehensive British Standards, and eventually European Norms, to ensure all hot water storage cylinders are manufactured to the highest possible standard and so that they can be CE marked in line with other construction products.”

This call for action is endorsed by Charlie Shivers, Managing Director of Copper Industries:

“Industry standards apply to all manufacturing processes, but the lack of appropriate guidelines for stainless steel cylinder production is a cause for genuine concern.

“The risk of legionella bacteria contamination and its impact on vulnerable groups is well known. We would call for the introduction of legislation equivalent to British or EU Standards to enable best practice, informed decision-making, and fairness all-round.”

The report also highlights the wider environmental benefits and energy cost efficiencies associated with copper cylinders. While the findings are of particular benefit to plumbers, architects and developers they are also directly relevant to the general public who need to be best informed regarding their property and their health. The full report is available on www.copperindustries.co.uk/rd