CDC: Chesterfield school cooling towers among worst maintained in country

CDC: Chesterfield schools cooling towers poorly maintained

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Cooling towers at schools in Chesterfield County have been cleaned following the discovery of legionella bacteria and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report saying the county’s facilities were among the nation’s worst.

The Chesterfield Board of Supervisors meeting Wednesday, included several updates into the Legionella investigation in the county.

“People may ask why is the county concerned? It’s because the citizens are the ultimate owner of these school facilities maintained by schools and the County Charter notes the county as the owner,” County Administrator Dr. Joe Casey said. “From a discussion with the CDC yesterday, they told school, county and state health officials that our school cooling towers were some of the ‘poorest facilities maintained’ they’ve seen across the country.”

NBC12 obtained service reports from Water Chemistry Inc., who services HVAC units and cooling towers for Chesterfield County Schools.

Reports from February and March 2019 show the company recommended “legionella testing be done on all cooling tower systems.” It also notes that “all systems have seen minimal or no service performed over that last 2+ years.”

According to Dr. Casey, in recent weeks Chesterfield County Schools “shock treated all their cooling towers."

In an Aug. 23 update, CCPS wrote:

“By the end of this week, we will have proactively cleaned and treated cooling towers at 33 of the 34 schools that were not in a geographical area identified for Legionella testing. (Cleaning at the 34th site begins Friday and will be completed by Monday afternoon.) We also have developed a preventative maintenance plan, so that we can continue to meet our community’s expectations for a high-quality learning environment. Out of an abundance of caution, we have gone above and beyond health experts’ suggestions and requirements in order to provide a safe place for teaching and learning. I look forward to being back in schools next week to welcome back staff and in two weeks to welcome back students!”

NBC12 learned the cleaning of schools was taking place.

Falling Creek Middle, Midlothian Middle, Greenfield Elementary schools, Meadowbrook High School and Hopkins Elementary and L.C. Bird High School were tested.

Test results returned this week show samples from L.C Bird tested positive for Legionella, but county officials say the schools were cleaned even before the test results came back.

Results from Meadowbrook High School were negative, showing no growth of the bacteria.

During Wednesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the Health Department as well as the county’s risk management department provided updates in the legionella investigation, emphasizing the importance of continued maintenance.

“This matter was a public health matter, as the legionella virus can spread 2 miles or more from any infected cooling tower,” Casey said. “From my understanding, all cooling towers have been cleaned and all chemical treatment equipment repairs all done by Sept. 10. However, legionella bacteria can grow within three days in untreated systems, so we need to be mindful that we don’t create a breeding ground in the interim.”

County leaders are anticipating by Oct. 1, investigative reports of the Centers for Disease Control, Health Department, Risk Management and Internal Audit will be completed.

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