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On the Lookout for Legionella

A device, BioAlert, capable of quickly and automatically detecting the presence of legionella, the bacteria responsible for legionellosis, a potentially fatal infection, in cooling towers. INNOVATION A device, BioAlert, capable of quickly and automatically detecting the presence of legionella, the bacteria responsible for legionellosis, a potentially fatal infection, in cooling towers. WHO? Étienne Lemieux founded the company SPI Bio in 2014, upon completion of his doctoral studies in cell biology, with his roommate Dominic Carrier, who holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering. Based in Sherbrooke, the company employs a dozen people. “There was no screening method, other than sending a sample to the lab and getting a result two weeks later. In the meantime, there are people who are exposed. ” -Étienne Lemieux, co-founder of SPI Bio THE PRODUCT In 2012, an outbreak of legionellosis in the Quebec City area affected 181 people, killing 13. This led to the adoption by the provincial government in 2014 of new regulations on water cooling towers in buildings, where the bacteria can accumulate and be released into the ambient air. SPI saw this as a market opportunity. The device attaches to the cooling towers and automatically analyzes the presence of legionella once a day to ensure that it remains below acceptable levels. Usually only a chemical, such as chlorine, needs to be added to correct the situation when the bacteria are too present. The machine is available for sale or rental. The cost to purchase is in the tens of thousands of dollars. According to the Régie du bâtiment, the 2,500 or so water cooling towers installed in Quebec have exceeded risk levels about 1,500 times this year. IN THE FUTURE SPI Bio’s product is installed at the Université de Sherbrooke and at a private company in the Eastern Townships. The company is in discussions with some 15 other companies in Quebec. It would like to attack the U.S. market in about a year’s time. “There are more cooling towers per inhabitant there, and legal recourse is getting out of hand. We’re talking about settlements of about $12 million per recently infected person. In New York City, the fines are $15,000 U.S. if they are exceeded. ” Article found in: https://www.lapresse.ca/affaires/portfolio/pme-innovation/201812/13/01-5207890-a-laffut-de-la-legionelle.php
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