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Edinburgh distillery closes after disease outbreak

North British Distillery in Edinburgh, which produces spirit for Johnnie Walker and The Famous Grouse, has chosen to temporarily close its three cooling towers and halt its whisky production following an outbreak of legionnaires’ disease in the area.

North British Distillery barrel
The North British Distillery has ceased whisky production until further notice

The move follows the issue on Friday of an Improvement Notice from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), for alleged failures to ‘adequately control the risk of legionella in a cooling tower’.

The outbreak, which has so far seen the number of confirmed and suspected cases in Edinburgh rise to 80 with one death, led to an investigation of several cooling towers in the city, but has centred on one cooling tower in particular at North British Distillery.

The HSE said the notice was served ‘for a failure to devise and implement a sustained and effective biocide control programme in one cooling tower’. However the HSE stressed that the tower had not been positively identified as the source of the outbreak and that it was continuing to visit other suspected companies.

A spokesperson for the North British Distillery said: “We voluntarily took our three cooling towers off-line until the legionella results from samples taken earlier this week are reported. While this precautionary operation is under way we have temporarily ceased distillation.

“Ensuring the health and safety of our employees and the local community is our highest priority. Our thoughts are clearly with the families of those affected by this situation.”

North British Distillery, which has ceased distillation at its site since Thursday (7 June) has until 29 June to correct controls within the said tower.

Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia caused by the ingestion of legionella bacteria, which are prevalent in natural water sources such as rivers and ponds, as well as man-made sources such as cooling towers, evaporative condensers and whirlpool spas.

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