Legionnaires’ Town Hall Overflows with Anxious Bronx Residents

As Bronx residents gathered for a town hall meeting on Legionnaires’ disease, City officials announced that three more people had died. The Legionnaries’ disease outbreak has claimed the lives of seven people and infected more than 81 people since Monday night. More people have required hospitalization with the origin of the outbreak remaining unknown.

The night’s overflow crowd at the Legionnaires’ Town Hall is an indication of the anxiety felt by Bronx residents living in the outbreak zone. Over 200 residents filled the Bronx Museum of Arts to get more information on the outbreak and ask questions. Outside, however, there were hundreds more residents on line who were not able to enter the town hall meeting due to reaching space capacity. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) deployed doctors and other staff to talk to small groups of residents gathered outside on the Grand Concourse.

“We’re not at a level of panic yet, but anxiety is really high.” said Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. as he addressed the packed room.

Dr. Mary T. Bassett, DOHMH Commissioner stated, “We have a high degree of confidence that its (Legionnaires’) origin is from the cooling towers.” She stated that the disease spreads from the roof into the neighborhood but does not actually contaminate the building. When asked by a resident if the contaminated mist from a cooling tower can reach the ground, Dr. Bassett admitted that it is possible, “The mist generally evaporates in the air but it is possible for some to reach the sidewalk,” said Bassett. The city has tested 17 cooling towers in the South Bronx with five of them contaminated with legionella bacteria. These locations included the Opera House Hotel, Concourse Plaza, a Verizon office building, Steamline Plastic Co., and Lincoln Hospital.

“Not a single patient at Lincoln contracted Legionnaries’ disease from the hospital. Our hospital has been decontaminated.” said Milton Nunez, Executive Director of Lincoln Hospital.

More than fifty community residents lined up to ask their questions and express frustrations to the panel of city officials. Multiple residents questioned the safety of the city’s tap water and asked what was being done to ensure any contamination of tap water. Dr. Bassett stressed that the city’s tap water is safe, despite stating that the city is not planning to test any other sources for Legionnaries’ disease. She went on to reiterate that New York City’s drinking water supply and other water fixtures, like fountains, shower heads and pools, are unaffected by legionella. Additionally, it was stated that water towers, home air conditioner units, and walking into air conditioned environments are unaffected by legionella.

All seventeen cooling tower sites have until Friday to submit long-term plans detailing how they will maintain the cooling towers to protect against any future growth of legionella.

In a statement, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised new legislation to halt future outbreaks of Legionnaires’ and to prevent the cycle of these outbreaks from continuing. The comprehensive package will address inspections, new recommended action in the case of positive tests, and sanctions for those who fail to comply with new standards.

“Legionnaires’ Disease outbreaks have become far too common over the past ten years, and the City will respond not by only addressing an outbreak as it occurs, but with a new plan to help prevent these outbreaks from happening in the first place,” said Mayor de Blasio.

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