This site is only informational in nature and is not intended as legal advice. This site is not a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney admitted in the jurisdiction of the reader. No legal relationship exists until a valid contract exists between Jules Zacher, Esquire and a client. Jules Zacher is authorized to practice law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He has in the past associated with local law firms in other states to litigate clients’ cases.
LEGIONNAIRES’ OUTBREAK in New York at Co-op City and the Opera House Hotel
Were you or your loved one involved in the Legionnaires' disease outbreaks of July 2015 or December 2014 in the Bronx? Jules Zacher has experience representing victims nationally and is currently representing people who contracted Legionnaires' disease at Co-op City and the Opera House Hotel.
NEW LEGIONNAIRES’ DISEASE CASES
Jules Zacher now represents a number of individuals connected to the Legionnaires' disease outbreaks in the Bronx at Co-op City and Opera House Hotel.
In addition to these cases, he is also working on a number of other cases in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida.
Government officials have warned that gardeners are at a higher risk of catching Legionnaires’ disease because Legionella bacteria, which live in moist organic material, thrive in bags of potting mix and compost. One official says that cases typically spike in early November, but that in she sees cases notified from September onward due to an increase in gardening activity. Three weeks ago, a 59-year-old keen gardener was using potting mix to plant some seedlings in his greenhouse. He began to feel unwell but thought it was just the flu. But the fevers quickly turned to coughing up blood. He was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease at the hospital where he spent three days in the emergency ward. “I contracted Legionnaires’ disease through the potting mix,” he said, and urges gardeners to wear masks and gloves.
Like with COVID-19 all ages can be affected by Legionnaires’ disease, but it mainly affects people over 50 and people with a compromised immune system. Susceptible people catch the disease by breathing in airborne particles from a water source that contains Legionella bacteria, or after inhaling dust from soil. Once in the lungs the bacteria multiply and can form a deadly form of pneumonia. So, heed this advice and do not just wear masks in public: wear them while gardening.
THE MATERIALS ON THIS WEBSITE HAVE BEEN PREPARED BY JULES ZACHER, P.C. FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND ARE NOT LEGAL ADVICE OR A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL COUNSEL.
Ironically, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it has closed several of its buildings in Atlanta because Legionella bacteria have been found in their water systems. These bacteria likely grew because of the pandemic shutdown. Legionella, which grows in warm or stagnant water, causes a deadly form of pneumonia. Left untreated, Legionnaires Disease can kill a person within weeks, and when treated properly can still take more than a year to recover from. The CDC says Legionella bacteria is a problem that people across the country need to be on the lookout for, especially now. The plumbing in its buildings have been closed for months and could provide a perfect breeding ground for water borne pathogens like Legionella.
Last year, 4,294 cases of Legionaries Disease were reported to the CDC. So far this year, 1, 813 cases have been reported. It is not clear yet whether the pandemic has worsened the problem because people are not gathering at large hotels or working in huge factories as much. But as our economy begins to open, surveillance of businesses’ potable water systems will be necessary. As people return to work and start travelling again, hospitals need to think about the possibility of Legionella. Poorly maintained cooling towers and under-sanitized potable water are two major causes of Legionella growth and are likely to be the catalysts for more contractions as the pandemic shutdown comes to an end. Just ask the CDC themselves.
THE MATERIALS ON THIS WEBSITE HAVE BEEN PREPARED BY JULES ZACHER, P.C. FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND ARE NOT LEGAL ADVICE OR A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL COUNSEL. THIS INFORMATION IS NOT INTENDED TO CREATE, AND RECEIPT OF IT DOES NOT CONSTITUTE, AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP. YOU SHOULD NOT ACT UPON THIS INFORMATION WITHOUT SEEKING PROFESSIONAL COUNSEL. WE CANNOT REPRESENT YOU UNTIL AND UNLESS WE CONDUCT WITH YOU AN INITIAL INTAKE, ACCEPT YOUR CASE, AND THEN COMPLETE AN AGREEMENT OF REPRESENTATION SIGNED BY BOTH PARTIES.
For months, many businesses, buildings, and facilities have remained closed during the COVID-19 outbreak. The temporary shutdowns have likely resulted in a reduction of normal water use in the buildings, which can create dangerous conditions for returning occupants, as States are reopening their local economies. One microbial hazard businesses should consider when planning their reopening is Legionella.
Legionella bacteria causes Legionnaires’ disease, a serious type of pneumonia. It is found naturally in freshwater environments, but can grow and multiply in common, human-made water systems like hot tubs, spas, showerheads, decorative fountains and water features, large plumbing systems, and cooling towers (large air conditioning units that contain water and a fan for use as a building-wide centralized cooling system).1
Warm-water areas in and around existing water systems, like water expelled from cooling towers or vapors from a spa unit, are breading areas for Legionella growth. That risk increases when what would ordinarily be moving water becomes stagnant or standing. When water is stagnant, hot water temperatures can decrease to Legionella growth range (77 – 108 Degrees Fahrenheit). It can also result in low or undetectable levels of water disinfectant, like chlorine.2 Shutdowns due to COVID-19 are likely resulting in higher amounts of stagnant water, increasing the risk that Legionella bacteria are growing.
The United States Centers for Disease Control has published a list of 8 stepsbusiness and building owners should take to minimize Legionella risk before reopening.3 They include:
Develop a water management program. Specific guidance on how to do so can be found on the CDC’s website and in their “Legionella Toolkit.”
Properly maintain your water heater. Make sure that your water heater is set to at least 140 Degrees Fahrenheit, and determine if your manufacturer recommends draining your water heater after prolonged disuse.
Flush your water system before use. By turning on all faucets, hoses, steamers, ice-machines, etc. you are ensuring that any residual Legionella bacteria in and around sink/shower faucets and other water exit/entry points are flushed clean.
Clean all decorative water features like fountains or hanging wall displays.
Clean your spas and pools. Ensure that the water has been disinfected properly or “shocked” with a disinfectant like chlorine or bromine.
Clean your cooling towers. Ensure that their water basins are free of any standing water or visible bio-film or slime, and make sure to have properly shut down and restarted the machines.
Clean all safety equipment like fire sprinkler systems, eye wash stations, and safety showers. You should be regularly flushing these systems in accordance with manufacturer guidelines.
Ask questions. Consider contacting your local water utility to learn about any recent disruptions in your water supply. Regularly check your water’s temperature and pH levels.
Taking such steps not only keeps your occupants safe, but can reduce your exposure to liability in negligence cases involving the contraction of Legionnaires’ disease.
THE MATERIALS ON THIS WEBSITE HAVE BEEN PREPARED BY JULES ZACHER, P.C. FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND ARE NOT LEGAL ADVICE OR A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL COUNSEL. THIS INFORMATION IS NOT INTENDED TO CREATE, AND RECEIPT OF IT DOES NOT CONSTITUTE, AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP. YOU SHOULD NOT ACT UPON THIS INNFORMATION WITHOUT SEEKING PROFESSIONAL COUNSEL. WE CANNOT REPRESENT YOU UNTIL AND UNLESS WE CONDUCT WITH YOU AN ININTIAL INTAKE, ACCEPT YOUR CASE, AND THEN COMPLETE AN AGREEMENT OF REPRESENTATION SIGNED BY BOTH PARTIES.
As previously reported in a blog posted October 12, 2018, the US approach to controlling legionella is different from the United Kingdom. The UK approach is national in nature and very strict. Two recent examples include a leisure center in Walton-on-the-Naze being criminally prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive ( UK government agency responsible for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare) for an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease two years ago. Another case involved a care home being fined 600,000 pounds (approximately $777,000.00) after pleading guilty to the death of a 90 year old who died from Legionnaires’ disease. This approach is in distinction to the US approach which is haphazard at best. The only state to pass legislation dealing with curtailing Legionnaires’ disease is New York. Apparently this approach is not working, as it has been determined that a Harlem high-rise apartment is once again the source of a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. Perhaps stiffer fines and criminal prosecution similar to those of the UK may be in order, particularly when people are dying.
Connecting the dots is part of what this blog is all about. You may remember that significant regulations were passed in New York City in 2015 because of the outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease (see my blog of October 25, 2018). Unfortunately, these regulations are not being properly enforced by the city health department. As a result, 90% of the cooling tower cases heard by an administrative agency charged with enforcing the regulations have been dismissed. This is despite the fact that there has been 65% increase in Legionnaires’ disease cases from 2016 to 2017. Even Mayor De Blasio has criticized the implementation of the regulations by the health department. What is troubling, however, despite the Mayor’s criticism as well as many building owners subject to the regulations, is the fact that there was a second outbreak in the same geographic area. Only time will tell whether it was lax implementation of the regulations or the behavior of the building owner that may have been the cause of the second outbreak in Washington Heights.
Every case involving Legionnaires’ disease that this office has been involved in has always had the defense attorney arguing that the bacteria causing Legionnaires’ disease is ubiquitous (found everywhere). By this the defense attorneys mean that because the bacteria legionella can be found naturally in nature, their clients should not be liable to pay money damages to my clients. What the defense attorneys don’t tell you is that although legionella bacteria may be found in water everywhere, it only causes disease such as Legionnaire’s disease when the property owner does not properly maintain the water system. Failure to properly maintain the water system such as water feeding a spa or the potable water system (showers and faucets) in a building is what causes people to get sick. Examples of legionella growing in various buildings are all over the country. A South Loop Chicago nursing home has been associated with two residents contracting Legionnaires’ disease. A Johnsburg Walmart in McHenry County, Illinois has been identified as the potential exposure source for three customers of the store, although the strain of legionella found in the store was apparently not the same as found in the three customers. It should be mentioned here that when a patient is tested for Legionnaires’ disease in the hospital, the test used by the hospital only looks for one strain of legionella, which may explain why the strain found at the store did not match because the store strain was different from one the looked for in the hospital. It should be also mentioned that the Walmart store turned off its water produce sprayers which has also been the source of persons contracting Legionnaires’ disease. Eleven cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been associated with a church in Parma, Ohio. Health officials think that the source of the outbreak was from a cooling tower (see previous blogs on cooling towers as sources for Legionnaires’ disease) of the church. Four cases have been confirmed in Hancock County, West Virginia, with one of the four being an employee of the Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort in Chester, West Virginia. The county health department has indicated it is still too early in the investigation to identify the source of the outbreak, although live racing has been suspended at the racetrack. The point of all this is that although legionella may be ubiquitous in nature, because there are cases of Legionnaire’s disease all over the country or everywhere, there is another meaning of the word ubiquitous. So the next time someone uses the word ubiquitous to avoid being held accountable for not properly maintaining their water supply, make sure to ask them what they mean by the word ubiquitous.
New York City Council enacted a law in 2015 after a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Bronx. The law requires that every cooling tower in New York City be identified, registered and inspected on a regular basis. The city has admitted recently that it is not sure it has found all cooling towers, three years after the legislation was passed (the city health department uses experts on the street and satellite imagery to find cooling towers). This failure to even identify all cooling towers takes on added significance after one remembers that there have been two recent outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease in the Washington Heights area. Even worse is recently released information by the city that of the 1,190 towers around the city that have been identified, more than 20% are behind on their quarterly inspections. In addition, almost 1000 violations were issued of the 1000 towers inspected by the health department in 2016. Of these 1000 violations, 65% were considered critical and nearly 20% were considered a public health hazard. This noncompliance of the law should not be tolerated by the citizens of New York, particularly in light of the two recent outbreaks.
This office has had numerous inquiries regarding persons contracting Legionnaires’ disease. Often times the person does not know where they acquired the disease. Unfortunately, many times the person acquired the disease from a cooling tower. The cooling tower need not be in the vicinity of the person who acquired the disease, or even have been identified by health authorities. Consequently, the person may not know that a cooling tower has caused him or her to get sick. These cases are considered sporadic in nature. On the other hand, when a cooling tower has been identified as the source, as in the outbreak in the Bronx at the Opera House Hotel, legal help can be given. A cooling tower is identified as the source when the health authority having jurisdiction over the tower samples the environmental biofilm (the sludge at the bottom of the tower) with the results from testing the patient in the hospital for Legionnaires’ disease. If there is a match, the health authority can then state that a particular tower was the source of the outbreak. It is up to your legal team to then determine why the cooling tower was the source. Records for the tower are examined to determine if the tower was properly maintained. These records will show how frequently the tower was cleaned among other things. There are standards in the industry, as well as legislative standards in the State of New York, to determine the appropriate way the towers should have been maintained. The cases that this office has been involved in unfortunately show that the towers were not properly maintained, which in turn caused the buildup of legionella in the tower. Because of the buildup of legioenlla from the poor maintenance, the legionella bacteria causing Legionnaires’ disease is transmitted to an unsuspecting person (see previous blog of October 11, 2108 “Osthoff Resort and Cooling Towers”). National legislation regulating cooling towers similar to that of New York (see previous blog of October 17, 2018 “New York State Regulation of Legionella-A Real Step Forward”) should be passed as soon as possible. No longer should someone suffer from an unknown, or known, cooling tower.
This office has handled many cases of Legionnaires’ disease acquired from a spa, hot tub or Jacuzzi. The recent outbreak in Hampton, New Hampshire is a case in point. One possible source of this outbreak is in the indoor spa at the Sands Resort in Hampton. The reasons a spa may be a source is due to the nature of the system supplying water to the spa. The system itself is called a closed loop system. This means that the water supplying the spa, hot tub or Jacuzzi is in a continuous loop closed off from other water systems in the building. The potential for legionella buildup is obvious. The buildup will occur unless the water in the spa water system is properly filtered and treated. Different types of filters exist but they all have the same purpose, i.e. to filter out contaminants that could act as a host for the legionella bacteria to grow. The filter could also act as a source for the legionella to grow if the bacteria lodges in the filter itself. The other requirement to prevent legionella bacteria propagation in a spa, hot tub or Jacuzzi is the proper dosing of the water with a biocide such as bromine or chlorine which thereby kills the bacteria causing Legionnaires’ disease. Many cases handled by this office have been resolved because the property owner where the spa was located could not produce adequate records to show proper maintenance of the filter or adequate chlorine or bromine being added to the spa water. One case in Daytona Beach handled by this office included victims who acquired Legionnaires’ disease even though they did not physically go in the indoor spa but merely walked passed it when they were going to the room where breakfast was served each morning by the hotel.