American Splendor passengers on Lower Mississippi River cruises in September could have been exposed to Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease. USA Today obtained a copy of a letter American Cruise Lines sent to passengers stating tests on water samples revealed the presence of the bacteria in several locations on board.
Legionnaires’ Disease and Cruise Ships
People get Legionnaires’ disease when they inhale water mist that is contaminated with Legionella bacteria. Although they are found in nature, Legionella thrive in the warm, stagnant, water of manmade structures such as hot tubs, fountains, cooling towers, and the air conditioning or the plumbing systems of large buildings or ships. In the water system of cruise ships, Legionella can proliferate if there is a long break between voyages.
Most Legeionnaires’ disease outbreaks are associated with healthcare settings such as hospitals and long-term care facilities; and travel accommodations such as hotels and cruise ships, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
2023 American Splendor Legionnaires’ Disease
Hotel General Manager Jay Hasan notified American Splendor passengers of water test results that were positive for Legionella on September 18, 2023, the second-to-last day of a week-long cruise, according to the USA Today report. The letter stated the company had a comprehensive water management plan and that no confirmed cases of illness had been reported. However, there was no doctor aboard the ship.
2021 American Star, American Heritage Legionnaires’ Disease
Three passengers who traveled on the cruise ships American Star and American Heritage in 2021 contracted Legionnaires’ disease, a severe often fatal form of pneumonia. When investigators from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) inspected the vessels following reports of illness, they found Legionella -the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, in the potable water systems. They also found what they described as “insanitary conditions related to the potable water systems.” When the FDA notified American Cruise Lines of these problems, it found the company’s response lacking and issued a warning letter.
Founded in 1991, American Cruise Lines Inc. based in Guilford, CT is a small-ship cruise company offering coastal and river cruises on its fleet of riverboats, paddlewheelers, and small cruise ships. The company’s founder, Charles Robertson, is chairman and CEO of the privately held company. After 1,000 employees filed a class-action lawsuit against the company for failing to pay its stewards minimum wage and overtime pay, the parties reached a $1 million settlement.
FDA Warning Letter to American Cruise Lines
On November 5, 2021, the CDC notified the American Star that a passenger had contracted Legionnaires’ disease. After receiving the notification American Star did not change its procedures for flushing and disinfecting the plumbing system or perform environmental sampling.
During an April 2022 inspection, FDA inspectors noted the “insanitary practice” of failing to monitor potable water systems such as water temperature and chlorine and pH levels both when docked and not in operation and while in operation. On April 30, 2022, FDA investigators collected 10 biofilm swabs and 14 potable water samples. When tested by the Maryland Department of Health, 60 percent of the biofilm swabs and 93 percent of potable water samples were positive for Legionella. Some of the positive samples were collected from passenger cabins.
After being notified of these results on June 4, 2022, American Star disinfected the potable water system and notified each passenger by of the presence of Legionella in the water and the steps taken to mitigate the contamination. Letters were also sent to passengers who sailed in May. Weeks later, these notifications ended when samples American Star collected and tested using a field test kit were found to be free of Legionella pneumophilia serogroup 1, the only species tested for despite the FDA’s findings of other Legionella species.
The FDA expressed other concerns about the adequacy of the tests. For example, most of the bulk water and biofilm swab locations that were positive from FDA’s sampling were avoided during tests conducted by American Star. The “insanitary practice” of failure to monitor the efficacy of disinfection processes was also noted.
“On September 20, 2022, FDA submitted additional follow-up questions regarding the vessel’s sampling process, laboratory results, and future disinfection process. To date, we have not received a response,” the warning letter dated January 24, 2023, reads.
On April 30, 2021 and November 30, 2021, the CDC notified American Heritage of passengers with confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease. After receiving the notifications, American Heritage did not change its procedures of flushing and disinfecting the potable water systems or perform environmental sampling.
On June 15, 2022, after Amercian Heritage had disinfected its water, FDA inspectors collected water and biofilm samples from the vessel. When tested by the Maryland Department of Health, 8 percent of the biofilm and 7 percent of water samples were positive for Legionella. “FDA’s positive samples were collected after your disinfection and thus show that your disinfection was not fully effective,” the letter reads. The letter goes on to say that American Heritage chose not perform remediation and disinfect the potable water system after being notified of the FDA’s positive test results. As with the American Star, FDA investigators noted two “insanitary conditions” on board the American Heritage: failing to monitor potable water systems, and failure to monitor the efficacy of disinfection.
Our Legionnaires’ Disease Legal Team
Our Legionnaires’ lawyers represent Legionella outbreak victims and their families. For the past 40 years, we have been representing people who developed serious illnesses because corporate wrongdoers failed to put water safety plans in place.
One of the first steps you should take after being diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease is to consult with an experienced lawyer. For a free consultation with one of our lawyers, please call 612-338-0202, text 612-261-0856, or fill out the form below.