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New Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreak Hits Queens

Flushing, Queens

Legionnaires' Outbreak

Downtown Flushing, Queens, is the site of a new outbreak of Legionnaires' disease (image via Google Maps)

Oct. 26, 2017

As most co-op and condo board members are aware, the city has passed strict new regulations on the maintenance and inspection of rooftop water cooling towers, an essential component of central air-conditioning systems. These tightened rules, known as Local Law 77, were the result an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the Bronx in 2015 that left 12 people dead and more than 120 severely ill. The culprit was an improperly maintained water cooling tower, which fostered the growth of the legionella bacteria, the source of the potentially fatal disease. 

Despite these strict new rules – among the toughest in the nation – the city’s Department of Health is investigating a new outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that infected 12 people in downtown Flushing, Queens, over the past two weeks, DNAinfo reports. Five of the victims remain hospitalized. No one has died. 

“The Health Department is currently investigating a cluster of Legionnaires’ disease cases in the downtown Flushing area of Queens, and I urge individuals in this area with respiratory symptoms to seek medical attention right away,” Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said in a statement. “People over the age of 50 and people with compromised immune systems are especially at risk.” 

The Health Department has collected water samples from all cooling tower systems within the investigation zone to test for legionella bacteria. The department is also working with building owners in the area to immediately test and clean cooling towers. Officials stress that Legionnaires’ disease is not contagious; people can get sick only by inhaling mist contaminated with the bacteria. 

Since failure to comply with Local Law 77 can result in a $25,000 fine and one year in prison, some co-op and condo boards have hired one of the handful of companies that specialize in developing the required Maintenance Program and Plan (MPP) for every water cooling tower, conducting quarterly inspections and Legionella testing, and writing up the annual certification. 

The annual cost is about $8,000 for a tower that operates seasonally. That’s a fair chunk of money, but it’s a lot less than a $25,000 fine – or a year in jail.

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