Reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease are down in Flint, Michigan after the city changed the source of its water supply.
The Flint River has become synonymous with lead contamination, but the city’s water supply was also home to dangerously high levels of Legionella bacteria. The spotlight on lead allowed the 2015-16 outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, the largest outbreak in recent times, to go relatively unnoticed. Over 90 people were sickened in Flint, 12 of them fatally, over an 18-month period. Experts have linked the outbreak to the city’s tainted water system. The finger-pointing debacle that ensued between government agencies meant that testing for Legionella in the water supply never took place.
Now, the city has switched the source of its water supply from Flint River to Lake Huron. Only one case of Legionnaires’ disease has been reported since the March 2016 shift. Experts are still unsure whether the drop in cases is due to the water supply shift or to a recent spell of relatively cold weather (Legionella thrives at 80-120 F).
Whether or not the original source of the bacteria was the contaminated Flint River, researchers have cautioned that aging city infrastructure may still be harboring Legionella. Continued monitoring of plumbing and water systems will be essential as the city moves into the summer months, when temperatures are more conducive to the growth of the bacteria and risks of disease outbreaks are highest.
Jules Zacher is an attorney in Philadelphia who has tried Legionnaires’ disease cases across the U.S. Please visit LegionnaireLawyer.com again for updates.