A community outbreak of legionellosis occurred in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, during July and August 2002. A descriptive study and active case-finding were instigated and all known wet cooling systems and other potential sources were investigated. Genotypic and phenotypic analysis, and amplified fragment length polymorphism of clinical human and environmental isolates confirmed the air-conditioning unit of a council-owned arts and leisure centre to be the source of infection. Subsequent sequence-based typing confirmed this link. One hundred and seventy-nine cases, including seven deaths [case fatality rate (CFR) 3·9%] were attributed to the outbreak. Timely recognition and management of the incident very likely led to the low CFR compared to other outbreaks. The outbreak highlights the responsibility associated with managing an aerosol-producing system, with the potential to expose and infect a large proportion of the local population and the consequent legal ramifications and human cost.