In just eleven days, seven people from one section of the Lenox Hill neighborhood in Manhattan were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease, according to the New York City Department of Health (DOT). All seven were hospitalized. Four are still in the hospital, and one person has died. As is typical with these outbreaks, all of the people sickened were over 65.

The Search for the Contaminated Cooling Tower

Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia that happens when water mist containing cells of Legionella bacteria are breathed in.  NYC health officials believe the outbreak of illnesses in the Lenox Hill neighborhood were caused by a contaminated cooling tower on a building in the area. To find this cooling tower, they have gathered water samples from all cooling tower systems on buildings within a half kilometer radius of the affected section of Lenox Hill.

These samples are being tested for the presence of Legionella bacterium. If any is found, further testing will be done called pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), which is a process that chops up the DNA of one cell and then pulses it over a gel to create a pattern.  An analysis of these patterns can determine the source of an outbreak.

Legionella Bacteria

Cooling towers are generally on rooftops. They are used for heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Because water is used as part of the cooling process, they generate a significant amount of water mist, and by mist we mean extremely small particles of water. It only takes a few cells of Legionella in one minute particle of water to make someone sick. People most at risk for contracting Legionnaires’ disease include the following:

  • people over 55
  • smokers
  • chronic lung disease patients
  • people who have compromised immune systems.

There is concern that this outbreak will grow because the source of the illnesses has not been found yet. Anyone who lives in, works in or has visited the Lenox Hill area in New York City should watch for symptoms, including breathing problems, fever, cough, chills and body aches. If you or a loved one has one or more of these symptoms, you should contact a medical professional.

A Similar Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak in Minnesota

Our law firm is representing people sickened in a similar outbreak to this one. Our lawyers help people throughout the U.S. get compensation for the harm caused by Legionnaires’ disease.

This outbreak in NYC is similar to one in Hopkins, Minnesota, that occurred in 2016. Over a period of a few weeks several people who had been in Hopkins were diagnosed. Given that the only connection was being in a certain area of the city (not a specific building), The investigation immediately focused on cooling towers. As with the New York outbreak, health officials got water samples from every cooling tower on every building in the area. It took over a month, but the Minnesota Department of Health determined that the cooling tower on a building owned by Citrus Systems, a Minnesota company, was the likely source of the outbreak.

Attorneys Ryan Osterholm and Brendan Flaherty of our law firm filed a lawsuit against Citrus Systems. They represent several people sickened in the outbreak, and Eric Hageman, another attorney at our firm, is representing the family of a person who did not survive.  You can contact our law firm for a free consultation.