4th Dead, 2 More Bronx Bldgs Positive For Legionnaires’ Germ

4th Person Died of Legionnaires’ disease; Two More Contaminated Building Cooling Towers 

A fourth person in the Bronx has died of Legionnaires’ disease according to the city’s Health Department. As of Saturday, the number of cases climbed to 65, including 55 who had been hospitalized. The cases seem limited the community boards 1, 2, 3, and 4 in the South Bronx.

In the past week, five out of seventeen buildings with cooling towers in the impact zone have tested positive for the Legionella bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease. The two newly identified buildings are Verizon (167th Street and Grandview Av) in the Concourse section and Streamline Plastics on Park Avenue and 14oth Street in Mott Haven. As of publication, the city reports that all sites have been remediated and decontaminated. All sites are required to submit long-term plans detailing the maintenance safeguards they will take to protect against any future growth of legionella in the cooling towers.

This Legionnaire’s Disease outbreak has been revealed the absence of an annual inspection mechanism for coolant systems, rooftop water tanks and other standing water infrastructure.  Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., has called on the city to create a new inspection system for HVAC systems similar to that used  for critical systems, such as elevators.

“My office will work with our City Council members and the appropriate agencies to craft new legislation that would deal with this issue in the coming days,” said Diaz.

Incidents of Legionnaires’ disease in the City has more than tripled in the last 10 years. Citywide, the number of cases rose to 225 in 2014, from 73 in 2004. There were 301 cases in 2013. The NY Times reports that most of those cases were in the Bronx and Brooklyn (which the Times attributed to high poverty rates).

Senator Jose M. Serrano said that he supported Borough President Diaz proposal and hoped the heightened awareness will lead to better maintenance of building cooling systems. “It’s very important that the city examines how the health care disparities in the South Bronx can worsen the impact of an outbreak,” he added.

All four of the victims who died were older persons who suffered from pre-existing medical ailments. The elderly and people with compromised immune systems are at-risk.

New York City’s drinking water supply and other water features, like fountains and pools, are safe throughout New York City and are unaffected by legionella.

wpid-img_20150731_184248.jpgOn Monday night, the Health Department is co-hosting with Council Member Vanessa Gibson a town hall meeting at the Bronx Museum on the Grand Concourse and will be distributing health information throughout the week, including National Night Out events in the Bronx this Tuesday. Bronxites will have an opportunity to hear from the medical experts about this non-contagious and highly treatable disease.

In a telephone interview, Congressman Jose Serrano praised the “city’s response in getting on top of the outbreak, keeping elected officials informed and not panicking the public about the source of the outbreak.”

Community activist Dennis Terry sounding an optimistic note said, “I am hopeful that we can learn from this outbreak so we can protect people in vulnerable neighborhoods.”