Additional cleanup efforts begin at Chesterfield schools after discovery of Legionella bacteria

Updated: Aug. 13, 2019 at 5:10 AM EDT
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CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WWBT) - Cleanup with additional contractors is set to begin Aug. 13 at schools with cooling towers in Chesterfield County.

“Chesterfield County Public Schools is working with three independent contractors to accelerate a schedule to clean and provide preventative maintenance to water cooling towers found outside on school grounds, in light of Legionella bacteria recently found in cooling towers at Falling Creek Middle, Midlothian Middle and Greenfield Elementary,” Chesterfield County Schools said in a news release on Aug. 9.

The bacteria was found at Falling Creek Middle, Midlothian Middle and Greenfield Elementary schools.

An 11th case of Legionnaire’s disease was confirmed in Chesterfield on Aug 8.

Health officials said culture results indicate the presence of live Legionella bacteria at Johnston-Willis Hospital, Reynolds Metal Company, Ice Zone and the U.S. Defense Supply Center.

“The safety of our patients, visitors and staff is our top priority. We immediately began to work closely with the Health Department upon notification and completed the recommended treatment plan on our cooling system. Infection control experts agree there is no evidence of transmission within the hospital and there has been no impact on patient care,” a hospital spokesperson said.

Richmond Ice Zone said the bacteria was found in its ice sheet cooling system and there is no risk to the public.

“We appreciate everyone’s concern about the recent news reports about Legionella bacteria found at our facility. The safety of our customers and staff is always our top priority,” Richmond Ice Zone said in an email. “We have worked closely with the health department and our water treatment contractor in following the recommended treatment plan for the cooling tower. The treated system was a closed loop system that cools the underground piping for the ice sheet and did not have any exposure to public areas. It was not an air conditioning system. The health department assured us that there was no risk to the public or staff and that we could continue normal operations.”

The bacteria found on cooling towers at the Chesterfield schools is from “a strain known to potentially cause illness. Though the LP1 strain was present in the cooling tower at Greenfield, it has not been confirmed that the bacteria at Greenfield is responsible for making anyone sick,” Chesterfield officials said in a news release.

“The school division has two contractors in place and has obtained a third contractor with the assistance of the county government,” the school system said about the cleanup. “The additional cleaning is expected to start Tuesday (Aug. 13), with all work by all contractors scheduled for completion by Aug. 28.”

The school system says cleaning of the schools started immediately and that the additional contractors is “proactive in nature.”

Eleven cases of Legionnaire’s disease have been confirmed in northeast Chesterfield County since May 1 in older adults and people with other medical conditions.

Chesterfield health officials said that there is no proof those cases are connected to the additional locations the bacteria has been found.

Officials are still waiting on more lab test results which will help focus the direction of the investigation into the source.

The Department of Health said most people exposed to the bacteria do not get Legionnaire’s disease. People over age 50, smokers, those with chronic lung disease and other chronic health conditions as well as those with weakened immune systems are at increased risk.

Legionnaire’s disease is treatable with antibiotics.

The CDC says Legionnaire’s disease cases have increases nearly five and a half time since 2000. In 2018, there were 236 cases of Legionnaire’s disease in Virginia.

For more information Legionnaire’s disease, visit the Virginia Department of Health’s website.

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