North British Distillery has come out fighting after being cited by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for alleged failures to adequately control the legionella risk posed by a cooling tower, as the executive investigates a deadly 'legion fever' outbreak in Edinburgh.
A deadly outbreak of legionanaires’ disease in the Scottish capital has killed one man, while there have been 88 suspected and confirmed cases in all, with 14 people in intensive care as of this morning.
Major North British Distillery shareholders are spirits giants Diageo and The Edrington Group – and the distillery's output is used for blending purposes in branded products such as The Famous Grouse, J&B Rare, Johnnie Walker Black Label and Cutty Sark.
While expressing concern for the families of those affected by the situation, in a statement sent to BeverageDaily.com a spokesman for North British Distillery reaffirmed the distillery’s commitment to work with the HSE and relevant authorities.
But he added: “North British Distillery would like to reaffirm that the improvement notice issued by the HSE does not mean that this cooling tower has been identified as the source of the outbreak.”
Biocide control failings alleged
We understand that Diageo is providing support to management at North British Distillery – which is run as an independent operation, to attend to the improvement notice alleging “failure to devise and implement a sustained and effective biocide control programme in one cooling tower”.
Although only one tower was cited in the HSE notice – which can be appealed within 21 days, otherwise improvement works must be completed by June 29 – the company chose to take all three cooling towers out of operation on the previous day.
“Ensuring the health and safety of our employees and the local community is our highest priority,” the North British Distillery spokesman said.
“On Thursday 7 June we voluntarily took our cooling towers off-line until the legionella results from samples taken earlier this week are reported,”
Distillation ‘temporarily’ ceased
BeverageDaily.com understands that these test results could arrive later this week.
“While this precautionary operation is underway we have temporarily ceased distillation,” the spokesman added, while stressing that industrial cooling towers were only one potential source of Legionnaire’s disease and a number of Edinburgh sites had such towers.
The spokesman pointed to two similar improvement notices served yesterday by the HSE, as part of its legionella investigation, to pharmaceutical company, MacFarlane Smith, which occupies a site close to North British Distillery.
The notices require thorough cleaning of one cooling tower and provision of access for inspection and maintenance of that cooling tower.
Neither Diageo nor The Edrington Group were available for direct comment this morning, with the forming directing us to North British Distillery.