In an ironic turn of events, Illinois state legislators and state capitol complex personnel have been alerted that there is a notable presence of disease-causing Legionella pneumonia bacteria in the capitol complex buildings’ water system.
This comes at the same time that Illinois lawmakers continue to assess the remediation of the Illinois Veterans’ Home in Quincy, IL – where a 2015 Legionnaires’ disease outbreak killed 13 residents.
The memo alerting employees to the proliferation was issued on January 22nd:
“Out of an abundance of caution and because of heightened awareness and continued misconceptions about Legionnaires’ disease, we want to make you aware of preliminary test results that indicate the possible presence of Legionella bacteria in the Capitol complex hot water system. This is the bacteria that can cause Legionnaires’ disease. We are not aware of any reports of Legionnaires’ disease among Springfield state employees or the general public.” It was signed by Deputy Governor Trey Childress and Secretary of State Physical Services Director Mike Wojcik.
The initial test of the water supply that identified the bacteria took place after a pipe burst in the Armory building on January 10th. Further testing of the 14 buildings that comprise the capitol complex is currently in progress. In the meantime, personnel have been advised to remove aerators and avoid taking showers in complex buildings until the results are known. No diseases have been associated with the Legionella proliferation.
What Happens When Legionella Grows Within Public Buildings?
The 2015 Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Quincy brought the issue of Legionella contamination to national attention. Once Legionella become established in a public building’s substandard, poorly maintained water system, it can be dispersed in the form of water vapor into the air through showers, ice machines, and water features like hot tubs and decorative fountains. People who then breathe or aspirate the contaminated water into their lungs can develop Legionnaire’s disease, a severe form of pneumonia that is fatal in almost 50% of cases occurring within healthcare settings.
The elderly, smokers, and people who have underlying medical conditions like diabetes, respiratory disease / COPD, heart disease, or cancer are particularly susceptible to becoming sick from Legionella bacteria circulating in the air around them.
And, unfortunately, the bacteria is extremely difficult to eradicate from water systems once it has taken hold. As Illinois state lawmakers are well aware, the state has spent almost $6.4 million on upgrades to the Quincy facility’s century-old water system and has introduced new water treatment protocols.
Yet Veterans at Quincy continue to contract – and die from – Legionnaires’ disease. Five more residents contracted the illness in 2016; all survived. In the fall of 2017, 3 additional patients tested positive for legionellosis. One of these, Roy Dehn (a Korean war veteran), died; the local coroner reported that Legionnaires’ disease was a “contributing factor” to his death (1).
As the number of Quincy cases continues to rise, lawmakers and Governor Bruce Rauner continue to debate whether the facility should be shuttered until a new housing unit is constructed.
11 families of the Quincy victims have now filed individual lawsuits against the state of Illinois, with claims including charges that Illinois Veterans Home knew about its contaminated water system but did not alert residents in 2015, that it failed to maintain a safe environment for its residents and personnel, and that medical personnel did not test two patients for Legionnaires’ disease after they had developed the symptoms of legionellosis.
People who contract Legionnaires’ disease after exposure to Legionella disseminated in public buildings may have grounds to file a Legionnaires’ disease lawsuit for recovery of medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. We recommend you contact a Legionnaires’ disease lawyer to help you understand and protect your legal rights.
- 1. Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold. “Surviving War, but not the Veterans’ Home.” WBEZ91.5Chicago. Web. Dec. 12, 2017.