Legionella bacteria found in Henrico jail cooling tower

Henrico Jail tests positive for Legionella bacteria

HENRICO, Va. (WWBT) - A trace amount of Legionella bacteria has been detected in a cooling tower at Henrico Jail West but the amount found is not likely to cause a health risk, county officials said.

“Results of a test of the cooling tower, conducted by contractor Water Chemistry, Inc., indicated the presence of 11 colony-forming units (CFUs) of Legionella bacteria per milliliter," county officials said in a release. "The threshold for a positive test of the bacteria is 10 CFUs per milliliter, according to the company.”

Director of the Richmond City and Henrico County Health Departments, Danny Avula, said there are some places that wouldn’t even respond to a result like the one in Henrico.

“For example New York City, their threshold is set at 20 CFUs per mL for any kind of re-mediated action," he said. "So it’s a very low concern from our end, but the County is doing exactly what it needs to do in order to address the concern.”

The strain found in the cooling tower is one that can potentially lead to the development of Legionnaires’ disease in at-risk people. However, the amount found does not present a risk to people working or housed in the jail, Avula added.

Friday the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office had the health department come in and brief staff about Legionella.

“I think all of our employees are ensured that it’s not a problem and it won’t effect the staff or inmates,” said Sheriff Mike Wade.

A contractor tested the jail equipment on Oct. 8, with the lab analysis indicating positive test results on Oct. 16.

“Legionella is a very commonly present bacteria in cooling towers and in fresh water sources," Avula said. "In fact there was a recent study done that samples cooling towers from across the country and over 80% of those samples tested positive for Legionella.”

The contractor is scheduled to chemically treat the cooling tower and re-mediate the bacteria by Monday, Oct. 21, a release said.

“Where you really have problems is when you don’t discover it and it grows to a level where it can harm people," Wade said.

The cooling tower was checked as part of a countywide program looking for the presence of the bacteria. Nine other county government buildings were tested and have come back negative for the bacteria.

Henrico regularly maintains the towers, including monthly cleanings and other treatments.

The County started testing for Legionella bacteria in September after it was found in other facilities around the region.

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