Institutional Water Treatment program service helps combat the spread of Legionnaires’ disease

Part of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP), the Institutional Water Treatment program, or IWT, provides unbiased, professional water treatment advice to facilities equipped with institutional water systems such as cooling towers, chillers, boilers, etc. IWT services support public health and safety while also facilitating cost savings associated with chemicals, energy, water, and maintenance in industrial and potable water systems. Services range from presenting on-site training and seminars to providing chemical specifications and making recommendations concerning a comprehensive water treatment program for the control of corrosion, mineral scale formation, and biological growth.

Recently, IWT has added to its list of valuable services by offering testing for Legionella pneumophila, the bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease–a potentially fatal type of pneumonia (lung infection). L. pneumophila also causes Pontiac fever, a less serious, flu-like illness. This bacterium can grow in building water systems, such as showerheads, sink faucets, cooling towers, ice machines, spa pools, evaporative condensers, hot water systems, and complex plumbing systems. People become infected by inhaling tiny water droplets containing bacteria, or by aspirating contaminated drinking water (accidentally inhaling water into the lungs or windpipe when drinking).

Legionnaires’ disease and L. pneumophila derive their names from a 1976 outbreak of pneumonia that occurred among attendees of an American Legion convention at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, PA. There were a total of 182 reported cases, with 29 deaths, among the 2000 attendees. The cause of the outbreak was eventually determined to be a previously unknown bacterium, L. pneumophila, which had bred within the cooling tower of the hotel’s air conditioning system and subsequently spread throughout the building, infecting the Legionnaires. Once this bacterium had been isolated, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were able to retroactively attribute earlier outbreaks of disease to it, including earlier cases of Legionnaires’ and an outbreak of a flu-like illness at a health department in Pontiac, MI which became known as Pontiac fever.

According to the CDC, health departments reported nearly 10,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the United States in 2018; however, Legionnaires’ disease is likely underdiagnosed, so this may underestimate the true incidence. Since no vaccines exist to prevent Legionnaires’ disease, the key to prevention is proper maintenance of building water systems to reduce the risk of growth and spread of bacteria. Regular maintenance testing of large distribution water systems provides validation that the water management program is effectively preventing the growth of L. pneumophila. Testing is also performed during outbreak investigations to identify the source of bacteria where reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been confirmed.

IWT offers on-site water sample collection and two laboratory test methods for L. pneumophila detection. The IWT laboratory is one of only six laboratories in Illinois that is CDC ELITE Certified for Legionella testing. The CDC Environmental Legionella Isolation Techniques Evaluation (ELITE) is a yearly program where laboratories demonstrate their proficiency in successfully identifying Legionella in water samples.

If you’re interested in exploring IWT’s testing service for your facility, you can download a flyer on the L. pneumophila testing service, visit the TAP web site, or contact Don Kueneke via email or phone at 217-333-3659.

Free sustainability assessments for Illinois manufacturers: video available

Screenshot from TAP assessment opportunity webinar
This webinar recording is available on YouTube.

Members of the ISTC Technical Assistance Program team recently presented a webinar in association with Sustain Rockford to describe an opportunity for Illinois manufacturers, their direct suppliers, and supporting industries to obtain free sustainability assessments. The webinar recording is now available on ISTC’s YouTube channel.

TAP has received federal grant funding to provide these assessments for the following sectors:

Assessments can help facilities reduce business costs, energy and water consumption, wastewater generation, emissions, and hazardous material usage, which can result in increased profitability, productivity, and competitiveness as well as recycling or diversion of by-products.

The recorded presentation describes: how interested facilities can sign up for the opportunity; the process of preparing for an assessment; what to expect from the report on findings provided by TAP (including some example elements and common opportunities identified); and how TAP can assist with implementation of recommendations, if desired.

View a flyer describing the assessment opportunity. For additional information, please email Irene Zlevor or call 217-300-8617.



US EPA releases report on environmental impacts of US food waste

EPA infographic on environmental impacts of US food waste
Image from US EPA Office of Research and Development.

On November 30, 2021, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new report entitled “From Farm to Kitchen: The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste (Part 1).”

This report reveals the climate and environmental impacts of producing, processing, distributing, and retailing food that is ultimately wasted and projects the environmental benefits of meeting the US goal to prevent 50 percent of food waste by 2030. The report was prepared to inform domestic policymakers, researchers, and the public, and focuses primarily on five inputs to the US cradle-to-consumer food supply chain — agricultural land use, water use, application of pesticides and fertilizers, and energy use — plus one environmental impact — greenhouse gas emissions.

This report provides estimates of the environmental footprint of current levels of food loss and waste to assist stakeholders in clearly communicating the significance; decision-making among competing environmental priorities; and designing tailored reduction strategies that maximize environmental benefits. The report also identifies key knowledge gaps where new research could improve our understanding of US food loss and waste and help shape successful strategies to reduce its environmental impact.

The new report reveals that each year, the resources attributed to US food loss and waste are equivalent to:

  • 140 million acres agricultural land – an area the size of California and New York combined;
  • 5.9 trillion gallons blue water – equal to the annual water use of 50 million American homes;
  • 778 million pounds pesticides;
  • 14 billion pounds fertilizer – enough to grow all the plant-based foods produced each year in the United States for domestic consumption;
  • 664 billion kWh energy – enough to power more than 50 million US homes for a year; and
  • 170 million MTCO2e greenhouse gas emissions (excluding landfill emissions) – equal to the annual CO2 emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants

In short, significant resources go into growing, processing, packaging, storing, and distributing food. Thus, the most important action we can take to reduce the environmental impacts of uneaten food is to prevent that food from becoming waste in the first place.

A companion report, “The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste: Part 2,” will examine and compare the environmental impacts of a range of management pathways for food waste, such as landfilling, composting, and anaerobic digestion. EPA plans to complete and release this second report in Spring 2022. Together, these two reports will encompass the net environmental footprint of US food loss and waste.

Read the full report at  (PDF document, 113 pages)

For questions, contact Shannon Kenny, Senior Advisor, Food Loss and Food Waste, US EPA Office of Research and Development.

ISTC Technical Assistance Program launches new webpages

TAP homepage

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) has a new web presence. You may now find information on TAP at

TAP makes companies and communities more competitive and resilient with sustainable business practices, technologies, and solutions. TAP works at the intersection of industry, science, and government to help organizations achieve profitable, sustainable results.

The new website makes it easier to find information on TAP programs, services, and projects. Visitors can sign up for free site visits or learn about fee-for-service opportunities to engage our sustainability experts. Any Illinois organization, business, manufacturing facility, institute of higher learning, government entity, public utility, or institution may request one free site visit (per location) at no cost to the facility.

General inquiries may be addressed to You may also reach out to specific TAP team members for assistance in their areas of expertise.

Expert viewpoint: Could Legionnaires’ bacteria lurk in idled buildings?

Editor’s note:  To contact Jeremy Overmann, email

ISTC provides technical assistance from a distance

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) at the University of Illinois makes companies and communities more competitive and resilient with sustainable business practices, technologies, and solutions. TAP works at the intersection of industry, science and government to help clients achieve profitable, sustainable results.

In service to the State of Illinois, ISTC provides all Illinois organizations, businesses, manufacturing facilities, institutions and governments the opportunity for one free site visit and sustainability assessment from TAP. However, in light of the Governor’s stay-at-home order and restrictions on non-essential travel for University personnel as we face the COVID-19 pandemic, TAP staff members are currently not conducting in-person site visits.

But this does not mean that we are not still here to serve you. Our staff members are working remotely, and are available to help your business or community with:

  • Answers to questions related to waste reduction, water and energy efficiency and conservation
  • Guidance on institutional water treatment, particularly given recent changes to building use patterns
  • Greening your supply chain
  • Sustainability visioning, goal setting, planning and communication with stakeholders
  • Information on alternative technologies and processes to reduce resource consumption, hazardous material use, and emissions
  • General recommendations for process improvement, which can increase your productivity while reducing your negative environmental footprint

Learn more about TAP services and impacts on the ISTC web site. If you are interested in scheduling a site visit in the future, when travel restrictions have been lifted, fill out our form to request a site visit.  Questions can also be directed to, to receive immediate assistance.

Subscribe to our monthly e-mail newsletter on sustainability for food and beverage manufacturers at

You can also keep up to date on TAP projects and services, case studies, and guidance by subscribing to the ISTC blog (look for the “subscribe” box for email input on the main blog page) or exploring the blog’s Technical Assistance category. Our web site also provides a list of fact sheets, case studies and other publications which may provide inspiration for your efforts. In the coming months, TAP will also be developing a new web site to more fully describe recent projects, successes, and services; this will be linked to directly from the main ISTC web site. Be on the lookout for it!

Finally, on April 9th, at 12 PM Central, we invite you to join us for a webinar, Ann Arbor Summer Festival (A2SF) Festival Footprint: Going Zero Waste. Learn more and register at If it inspires you to pursue zero waste at your facility or in your community, we’d love to discuss opportunities and ideas with you! Reach out to our zero waste team at  If you want to receive notifications of future webinars from ISTC, you can sign up at

Stay safe and know that we are here to support your organization’s sustainability efforts during this difficult time.

COVID-19 and Facility Water Systems Management

ISTC’s Institutional Water Treatment (IWT) program has developed a set of recommendations for facility managers to help them maintain their water systems in light of new federal, state, and local COVID-19 policies that change building use patterns.

If you have questions or need assistance, contact:

  • Jeremy Overmann: or (217) 333-5903
  • Angie DiAscro: or (217) 300-3882
  • Cameron Dillion: or (217) 244-0179
  • Jenn Tapuaiga: or (217) 300-0084
  • Mike Springman: or (618) 468-2780

Institutional Water Treatment program now tests facilities for bacterium causing Legionnaires’ disease

With the start of a new year, ISTC’s Institutional Water Treatment (IWT) program is offering a new service to test water sources for Legionella, the bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ disease, to decrease exposure for clients with weak immune systems.

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by inhaling water mist containing Legionella. The bacterium can grow in showerheads and sink faucets, cooling towers, and large plumbing systems. Legionella is inhaled, most commonly when showering, according to Mike Springman, manager of the IWT program.

“As long as the temperature of the stored water is hot enough, at 140 degrees, and is hot enough when used, at 120 degrees, and the chlorine is adequate, there shouldn’t be a problem,” Springman said. “Older systems and systems that are not well maintained are more at risk.”

Vulnerable populations, including older adults and others with compromised immune systems, are more susceptible to exposure. Legionnaires’ is a serious type of pneumonia, and symptoms include fever, cough, chills, and muscle aches.

The IWT services group gives advice on controlling corrosion, mineral scale formation, and biological growth for facilities with institutional water systems. Most of their clients are state-operated facilities, such as Human Services, Department of Corrections, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and others that often have older facilities that need to be checked periodically and maintained.

Using IDEXX laboratory test kits, IWT field chemists place bottled water samples in sealed trays, minimizing their own exposure to the bacterium. New laboratory testing facilities at the University of Illinois have been equipped specifically to handle water samples to be tested for Legionella.

Previously, Springman received requests from large facilities a few times a year to test for this particular bacterium. Until now, the testing was not cost-effective because it required sending samples to an outside lab.

“I think that Legionnaires’ disease is becoming more prevalent, or at least people are becoming more aware of what it is as time goes on,” Springman said. “The feedback to our announcement of this new service has been positive, and I think it’s going to work well. It’s going to serve our clients, which is what we’re here to do.”

For more information about IWT and to schedule a site visit, view

100 Plastic Rivers project tracks the sources of plastic pollution from river to sea

Plastic pollution has become recognized as a major environmental challenge, particularly in oceans. Recent evidence also shows that plastics are also present in freshwater ecosystems, including the Great Lakes. This not only affects human health and aquatic ecosystems, but also provides another pathway for plastics to enter marine environments.

A global initiative called the 100 Plastic Rivers Project investigates how plastics are transported and transformed in rivers and how they accumulate in river and estuary sediments, where they can leave a long-lasting pollution legacy. Researchers at the University of Birmingham lead the project.

Scientists at ISTC and at the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) are participating in the 100 Plastic Rivers Project as part of a larger collaboration with the University of Birmingham.  One goal of the project is to collect water samples to test for microplastics from 100 different rivers from around the world. ISTC and ISWS researchers have collected water from two rivers in Central Illinois and are recruiting other U.S. researchers to join the project.

Researchers who are interested in collecting samples for the project can contact Dr. Holly Nel at the University of Birmingham.

Registration is Open for Emerging Contaminants Conference

Join us on May 21-22 for the 2019 Emerging Contaminants in the Environment Conference (ECEC19). Registration will be open until May 3. View the draft agenda on the ECEC19 website.

About the Conference

ECEC19 will be held on May 21-22, 2019, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Champaign, IL. This year the conference will expand beyond the aquatic environment to also include air and soil studies along with effects on human and animal health.

The conference will feature presentations and posters on the latest in emerging contaminant research, policies, and outreach. In addition, there will be plenty of opportunities for discussion and networking with those interested in all aspects of emerging contaminants in the environment.

Researchers, educators, businesses, government officials, regulatory agencies, policy makers, outreach and extension professionals, environmental groups, members of the general public, and medical, veterinary, and public health professionals are encouraged to attend the conference.

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center and the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant are cohosting this conference.

Keynote Speakers

  • Thomas Bruton – PFAS Research and Policy Lead, Green Science Policy Institute
  • Robert C. Hale – Professor of Marine Science, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
  • Susan D. Richardson – Arthur Sease Williams Professor of Chemistry, University of South Carolina

Read more about the keynotes.


  • Thomas Burton – PFAS Research and Policy Lead, Green Science Policy Institute
  • Iseult Lynch – Professor and Chair of Environmental Nanosciences at the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham
  • Yujie Men – Assistant Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  • Katie Nyquist – Principal Planner for the Contaminants of Emerging Concern Initiative at the Minnesota Department of Health
  • Heiko Schoenfuss – Director of Aquatic Toxicology Laboratory and Professor of Anatomy at St. Cloud State University
  • Krista Wigginton – Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Michigan

Read more about the panelists.