Sick with Legionnaires’ disease?
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Legionella continues to plague the city of West Orange, NJ, after test results revealed elevated levels in nine of the city’s 12 schools.

The bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease also was found in the district’s administrative building.

Since there have been no confirmed cases of the disease connected to any school facilities, West Orange Public School District superintendent Jeffrey Rutzky said: “There is no reason to close the schools.”

The schools that returned positive tests were:

  • Edison Middle School
  • Gregory Elementary School
  • Hazel Elementary School
  • Mt. Pleasant Elementary School
  • Redwood Elementary School
  • Roosevelt Middle School
  • St. Cloud Elementary School
  • Washington Elementary School
  • West Orange High School.

The three schools that were Legionella-free were Betty Maddalena Early Learning Center, Kelly Elementary School, and Liberty Middle School.

“We want to make sure everybody is safe; we want to make sure the water is safe,” Rutzky told PIX11 News. “We’re doing filters, changing out piping, and then the chlorination process.”

Timeline of a city infected
The city has been battling Legionella issues since late July after a municipal worker was sickened with Legionnaires’ disease and Legionella was found in the city’s Town Hall, one of the two buildings in which the employee worked.

Testing was ordered in early August at more than a dozen municipal buildings, and the bacteria was found in six of the city’s properties: Fire Headquarters, Firehouse No. 2, Firehouse No. 4, and Police Headquarters tested positive for the bacteria, as did field houses at Lafayette Park and O’Connor Park.

In mid-August, Legionella was discovered in the water at Redwood Elementary School after a parent whose child was attending summer camp there reported that her child was sick with what the doctor said could be Legionnaires’ disease. The child eventually was determined not to have the disease, according to Rutzky.

Officials began remediation efforts at Redwood Elementary after Aug. 14 test results showed four of 15 samples had elevated levels of Legionella.

Remediation and disinfection
On Aug. 30, New Jersey American Water tested sinks and water fountains at Redwood Elementary for coliform bacteria. The results were satisfactory by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) standards, according to a statement released by Rutzky. Even though Redwood’s samples met the standard, OMEGA Environmental Services was hired to perform a disinfection procedure using a hyper-chlorinated solution on Sept. 10-11.

The disinfection procedure included the following steps:

  • Chlorine is pumped into the hot water heater and remains in the hot water tank for four hours to eliminate any bacteria.
  • Chlorine is then pumped through the hot water piping system and stays in the system for 14 hours to eliminate any bacteria.
  • Chlorinated water is drained from the hot water tank and hot water piping system, and flushed with fresh water.
  • Water samples are drawn and retested after the hyper-chlorination procedure to verify that the water again meets SDWA standards.

Remediation efforts at Redwood Elementary included:

  • Installing filters on the water sources that tested positive.
  • Replacing faucets in the affected areas.
  • Proactively and temporarily covering all water fountains despite the fact that the Legionella only presents a risk to people exposed to airborne droplets and not from drinking affected water.
  • Removing, cleaning and sanitizing all aerators (screens) in all rooms.
  • Where possible, changes in the plumbing systems will be done to minimize the potential for future bacterial growth.

The same disinfection procedures and remediation steps will be performed at all schools and district facilities that showed positive first tests performed by Omega Environmental and retesting performed by Garden State Environmental:

  • Mt. Pleasant and St. Cloud have had the chlorination and retesting processes completed.
  • Hazel has had the chlorination process completed, and retesting will be performed this week.
  • Gregory, Washington and the Administration Building will have the chlorination process completed on Oct. 5 and 6, Oct. 12 and 13 or Oct. 19 and 20. Retesting will be done approximately four days after the chlorination process.
  • Edison and Roosevelt will have the chlorination process completed on Oct. 26 or 27 or Nov. 2 and 3. Retesting will be done approximately four days after the chlorination process.
  • West Orange High School will be completed on Nov. 8 to 11. Retesting will be done approximately four days after the chlorination process.

“We will continue to be diligent in our approach to remediate the water sources that tested positive for Legionella bacteria and proactive in completing the process as quickly as possible,” Rutzky wrote in a statement.

FAQs: Legionnaires’ disease

What is Legionnaires’ disease?
Legionnaires’ disease – also known as legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia – is a severe type of pneumonia (lung infection). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 25,000 Americans yearly develop pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila). Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms.

Additionally, 10 percent of those who become infected with Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.

Legionella are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets, usually in the form of mist or vapor. The bacteria, which grow best in warm water, are found primarily in human-made environments.

What are the symptoms?
Legionnaires’ disease is similar to other types of pneumonia, and symptoms can even resemble those of flu, which is why the disease often goes under-reported. Those symptoms include:

  • cough
  • shortness of breath
  • fever
  • muscle aches
  • headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Where do Legionella live?
Outbreaks have been linked to a number of sources, such as:

  • water systems, like those used in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels
  • large plumbing systems
  • faucets and showers
  • hot tubs and whirlpools
  • equipment used in physical therapy
  • hot-water tanks and heaters
  • swimming pools
  • decorative fountains
  • mist machines, like those used in the produce sections of grocery stores
  • hand-held sprayers
  • cooling towers of air conditioning systems.

Who is most at risk?
Anyone can become ill from Legionella, but those most susceptible to infection include:

  • people 50 or older
  • smokers, current and former
  • heavy drinkers of alcoholic beverages
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with compromised immune systems
  • recipients of organ transplants
  • individuals who are on specific drug protocols (corticosteroids, to name one).