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APMIS. 2014 Apr;122(4):353-8. doi: 10.1111/apm.12153. Epub 2013 Aug 13.

Mycobacteria in Finnish cooling tower waters.

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Department of Environmental Science, University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio, Finland.


Evaporative cooling towers are water systems used in, e.g., industry and telecommunication to remove excess heat by evaporation of water. Temperatures of cooling waters are usually optimal for mesophilic microbial growth and cooling towers may liberate massive amounts of bacterial aerosols. Outbreaks of legionellosis associated with cooling towers have been known since the 1980's, but occurrences of other potentially pathogenic bacteria in cooling waters are mostly unknown. We examined the occurrence of mycobacteria, which are common bacteria in different water systems and may cause pulmonary and other soft tissue infections, in cooling waters containing different numbers of legionellae. Mycobacteria were isolated from all twelve cooling systems and from 92% of the 24 samples studied. Their numbers in the positive samples varied from 10 to 7.3 × 10(4) cfu/L. The isolated species included M. chelonae/abscessus, M. fortuitum, M. mucogenicum, M. peregrinum, M. intracellulare, M. lentiflavum, M. avium/nebraskense/scrofulaceum and many non-pathogenic species. The numbers of mycobacteria correlated negatively with the numbers of legionellae and the concentration of copper. The results show that cooling towers are suitable environments for potentially pathogenic mycobacteria. Further transmission of mycobacteria from the towers to the environment needs examination.


cooling tower; legionellae; mycobacteria; water

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