Legionella Bacteria Found in Hot-water System in Rhodes Tower

Posted in: United States Water News, Water Contamination
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Rhodes Tower. Photo Credit: Doral Chenoweth III | Dispatch

Article courtesy of Zack Lemon | June 19, 2015 | The Columbus Dispatch | Shared as educational material

State officials shut off hot water on Thursday night in the Rhodes Tower after samples tested positive for Legionella bacteria.

The Department of Administrative Services sent a memo to the nearly 4,000 people who work in the Downtown skyscraper that said three of six samples taken from the building’s hot water system tested positive for the bacteria.

The bacteria was not been found in any other systems in the building, spokeswoman Beth Gianforcaro said on Friday.

As a result, all hot-water faucets and devices that use hot water were shut off and hot-water tanks and pipes were drained. The department said “heavy chlorination” will occur this weekend, and that hot water was expected to be restored by Monday. Until then, liquid hand sanitizers will be provided in restrooms and kitchen areas.

Additional samples will be taken on Monday and sent to a lab for testing, which can take as long as two weeks.

The bacteria were discovered Thursday in samples drawn 10 days earlier.

Legionella bacteria are ubiquitous and usually harmless in the environment but cause trouble when they multiply. That can easily happen in warm, stagnant water.

The bacteria sicken people who inhale tiny droplets suspended in the air and then develop pneumonia. Those who are frail or have other medical problems are especially vulnerable to severe infections and death.

Dr. Andy Wapner, chronic disease director with the Ohio Department of Health, said there have been no reports of illnesses among Rhodes Tower workers.

Columbus Public Health reached out to the state but won’t investigate unless a case of Legionnaire’s disease is reported, said Jose Rodriguez, a city health department spokesman.

In 2013, six people died and 39 were made ill by an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at the Wesley Ridge Retirement Community.

An investigation led by Franklin County Public Health pinpointed the sources: a cooling tower and potable water used for bathing, drinking and cooking. But investigators didn’t determine any definitive circumstances that allowed the bacteria to flourish.

The bacterium was named after an outbreak in 1976, when many people who went to a Philadelphia convention of the American Legion suffered with the disease.

Here are some facts about Legionella from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • 8,000 to 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease each year in the United States.
  • Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment, usually in warm water.
  • Legionella bacteria are not transmitted from person to person.
  • People get Legionnaires’ disease when they breathe in a mist or vapor (small droplets of water in the air) that has been contaminated.
  • Most people with Legionnaires’ disease will have pneumonia because the bacteria grow and thrive in the lungs.
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