The New York City Department of Health (NYCDH) has alerted the public that 13 cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been diagnosed in Flushing, Queens over the past two weeks. The victims, ranging in age from the 30s to late 80s, all had underlying health conditions that made them more susceptible to contracting the disease; so far, none of these people have died. At least one more case is still under investigation.
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia that spreads when Legionella pneumonia bacteria proliferate in water sources such as cooling towers, potable water systems, decorative fountains, and hot tubs. Many people who catch this illness may only experience mild symptoms. However, for people who are older than 55, smokers, have compromised immune systems, or have other medical conditions like COPD, diabetes, or cancer, the disease can be crippling or fatal.
Legionnaires’ Disease in New York City
New York health officials first became concerned about the dangers of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks in 2015, when multiple clusters developed in the Bronx. In the largest of these clusters, more than 120 people were made ill and 12 died; later that year, a September outbreak killed 1 and sickened 15.
Epidemiological investigations revealed that the Opera House Hotel was the epicenter of the outbreaks; the legionella pneumonia bacteria had contaminated the hotel’s inadequately maintained cooling towers. Our law firm successfully represented victims of the 2015 outbreak.
Although Legionnaires’ disease can be deadly, it is a very preventable and treatable illness. After the Bronx outbreak, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council enacted Local Law 77, our nation’s first legislation to regulate the strict registration, certification, and quarterly inspection of cooling towers.
“The recent outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease was the largest in our city’s history, and it presented us with an unprecedented challenge … and we developed an equally unprecedented response.”NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio
However, scientists and policy makers are still concerned that, despite this legislation, the rates of Legionnaires’ disease cases have increased by over 70% in NYC and the state of New York in the past year.
Legionnaires’ Disease, Endemic to the Bronx, Now in Flushing, Queens
A research article recently published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its November 2017 issue of EID Journal confirms the fear that the Bronx will continue to experience outbreaks of Legionnaires’ Disease if water systems are not carefully monitored. In this study, scientists ascertained that the 2015 outbreak was caused by a single endemic strain of Legionella pneumophila which, as it evolved, “caused sporadic cases of legionellosis before, during, and after the outbreak”:
“Detection of an ostensibly virulent Legionella strain endemic to the Bronx community suggests potential risk for future cases of legionellosis in the area. The genetic homogeneity of the Legionella population in this area might complicate investigations and interpretations of future outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease.”EID Journal (Volume 23, Number 11, November 2017)
The Responsibility of Building Owners to Control Legionnaires’ Disease
As stated above, building owners in New York City are now required by Local Law 77 and New York City Chapter 8 Rules to register their cooling towers and have them tested every 90 days by a qualified inspector for Legionella pneumonia bacteria. Additional requirements include:
- Comprehensive cleanings of the cooling towers twice a year;
- Installation and maintenance of drift eliminators;
- Daily automatic chemical treatment of system water;
- Routine water quality monitoring for temperature, pH, conductivity, and biocide concentration (at least three times per week with no more than two days between monitoring);
- Weekly microbial monitoring;
- Weekly visual inspection of wetted surfaces and chemical treatment equipment;
- Testing for Legionella after a shutdown, with disinfection before reuse of any towers shut down without water treatment and / or recirculation for more than 5 days; and
- Development and implementations of a maintenance program and plan (MPP) in line with ASHRAE 188-2015 Standard. (Source: NYC Health)
The NYC Health Department is currently collecting samples from all cooling tower systems in the area where these new cases have emerged in order to try to ascertain a single source of the cluster.
Building owners who are found to be negligent in performing these mandated requirements will be subject to prosecution. They may also be liable for compensating the victims who contracted Legionnaires’ disease because of their negligence.
Our law firm is one of the few in the United States that has a legal team focused upon securing settlements for Legionnaires’ disease outbreak victims. For more information regarding the victims’ legal rights, please contact us at 1-888-377-8900 (toll free).