The Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at Chicago’s JW Marriott has resulted in three deaths and 10 total cases. The pool and hot tub were among the locations that tested positive for Legionella bacteria during environmental testing. Several news articles have cited this information, including the fact that they were shut down following the outbreak. However, very few articles included the fact that the pool and hot tub were recently renovated this spring and that chlorine-free technology was implemented in the system. These renovations are one of several possible causes of the infiltration and growth of Legionella that led to the outbreak. Other potential causes include the building’s original rehabilitation from an office building into a high-end hotel which was completed in November, 2010.
Here is a snippet from a press release by the JW Marriott on June 21, 2012, that was posted on the New York Times website, describing the pool and hot tub renovations:
“Take a dip in JW Marriott Chicago’s new high-tech UV light-filter pool. Located within VALEO wellness center, this state-of-the-art pool is disinfected by an ultra violet light filter instead of chlorine, eliminating 99 percent of all toxins. The absence of chlorine offers the feeling of swimming in a fresh-water lake and reduces allergies and irritants.
A separate whirlpool has been custom-designed to offer therapeutic relief to guests with PSI jets as powerful as a shiatsu massage that target highly sensitive points along the back, shoulders, and neck.”
Hotel renovations (especially those that include water systems) are prime opportunities for Legionella bacteria to infiltrate a water system and grow. While investigations are still underway to find what contaminated the water system at the JW Marriott, these recent renovations directly impacted the water system, and are one of several possible causes of the outbreak.
Jules Zacher is an attorney who focuses on Legionnaires’ disease litigation and has worked on cases involving hotels throughout the U.S. His website, www.legionnairelawyer.com is a resource for information on Legionnaires’ disease, and related litigation.