Tayside and Central Scotland

Dundee hotel fined over Pontiac fever outbreak

Hilton Doubletree Image copyright Google
Image caption Safety checks were not carried out correctly at the hotel's spa pool

A hotel operator has been fined after guests and staff fell ill when they were exposed to legionella bacteria.

BDL Select Operations Ltd - which operates the then Landmark Hotel, now the Hilton Doubletree, in Dundee - was fined £54,000 over the 2011 outbreak.

Eighteen people were confirmed as having contracted Pontiac fever - a non-fatal, flu-like illness caused by the bacteria.

The company admitted two charges under health and safety laws.

Dundee Sheriff court heard how safety checks on the spa pool at the hotel's leisure club were not being correctly carried out following the sacking of the club's manager in January 2011.

As a result of that departure the hot tub was not fully drained, cleaned or disinfected for more than two months before the outbreak.

Also, a "backwashing" job on its filters, which industry bodies recommend is carried out daily, was only done five times between 6 February and 17 March.

Hot tub closure

Then, in March 2011, a chlorine injector on the pool failed, causing chlorine levels in the pool to fall to dangerous levels and allowing bacteria to breed in it.

It was eventually put out of action - but left switched on to prevent water stagnating. That kept the water in the temperature zone that allowed the legionella bacteria to proliferate - and also agitated the water, allowing infected water droplets to become airborne.

Fiscal depute Emma Stewart told the court that after the outbreak was identified, legionella bacteria was found in water samples taken from poolside showers and in showers in the mens' changing rooms.

Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption Pontiac Fever is contracted from the same bacteria that causes Legionnaire's Disease

She said: "When the hot tub was closed it was left on, and over that weekend four regular members of the club were allowed to use it for around 20 minutes.

"All four later fell ill and three were confirmed to have Pontiac fever. An investigation was undertaken and the spa pool was later decommissioned entirely."

BDL Select Operations Ltd pleaded guilty on indictment to two charges under the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974.

Defence advocate Barry Smith said: "The company acquired the hotel in 2008 and spent £2.75m on it, including £140,000 on the leisure club.

"Considerably more money has been spent since this incident - some £1m."

Sheriff George Way said the outbreak was of "significant public concern".

"It is only good fortune that the actual consequences of the failures are not more serious - it comes down to the vagaries of chemistry and the biology of the potential victims."

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