Bronx Town Hall Meeting on Legionnaires’ Left More Questions Than Answers About NYC’s Largest Outbreak in its History

The Bronx Museum was packed to capacity for last night's Town Hall meeting on the Legionnaires' outbreak in the South Bronx—the largest in New York City history.
The Bronx Museum was packed to capacity for last night’s Town Hall meeting on the Legionnaires’ outbreak in the South Bronx—the largest in New York City history.

We’ve been through this before in The Bronx. We all know if this were happening in Manhattan, perhaps on the Upper East Side or any area below 96th Street, there would be more action and faster results than we are getting, but we’re not.

It’s still a tale of two cities when it comes to health disparities and issues.

The Bronx Museum was overflowing with concerned Bronx residents about the current Legionnaires’ outbreak in our borough—so much so that well over a hundred more could not get inside.

A city employee told an attendee of the meeting that they were not prepared for such a turn out as residents expressed frustration at using such a small space for such an important meeting.

The panel, led by New York City’s Department of Health Commissioner Dr Mary Travis Bassett, MD, provided several new insights such as the death toll having risen from 4 to 7 with a total of 86 confirmed cases.

The panel  continuously stressed that they are focusing on cooling towers because that’s where recent cases have been found to be the source and are closest to those currently infected.

This line of thinking runs counter to that of studies and even the United States Environmental Protection Agency which in 2001 stated in an advisory that the majority of cases originate with drinking water.

Legionnaires’ is transferred to humans via water vapor and mist so theoretically, if you’re taking a hot shower and the water is contaminated, it’s quite possible to become infected.

According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the most world-renowned medical research groups indicates the following:

How the infection spreads

Most people become infected when they inhale microscopic water droplets containing legionella bacteria. This might be the spray from a shower, faucet or whirlpool, or water dispersed through the ventilation system in a large building. Outbreaks have been linked to a range of sources, including:

  • Hot tubs and whirlpools on cruise ships
  • Cooling towers in air conditioning systems
  • Decorative fountains
  • Swimming pools
  • Physical therapy equipment
  • Water systems in hotels, hospitals and nursing homes

Although legionella bacteria primarily spread through aerosolized water droplets, the infection can be transmitted in other ways, including:

  • Aspiration. This occurs when liquids accidentally enter your lungs, usually because you cough or choke while drinking. If you aspirate water containing legionella bacteria, you may develop Legionnaires’ disease.
  • Soil. A few people have contracted Legionnaires’ disease after working in the garden or using contaminated potting soil.

Several healthcare sites suggest that you should boil your water and then cool it before using it for drinking purposes if you’re at high risk of getting infected such as those with respiratory ailments and compromised immune systems. says:

“For patients who have an underlying disease that compromises their immune system (diabetes, kidney failure, etc.), avoid drinking tap water. Instead, bring the water to a boil, then cool it, and then store it in the refrigerator for drinking. Long boiling times are not necessary. As soon as the water starts boiling and bubbling, Legionella and other water bacteria are killed. Bottled water is less likely to contain Legionella in large numbers than tap water.

For patients who are transplant recipients, receiving cancer chemotherapy, or receiving corticosteroids (prednisone), tap water should not be used for drinking. Buildings taller than three stories are more likely to harbor Legionella.”

When Welcome2TheBronx asked the panel if the Department of Health had cultured the homes and workplaces of those infected and the victims, the answer was no.

We also, for the record, presented the data regarding that the majority of cases of Legionnaires’ originate with drinking water and drinking water systems and the panel did not refute the data but they skirted the issue saying that for this outbreak in they didn’t see any evidence for that stating that “we would see high concentrations of individuals at one building if that were the case and we didn’t see that.”

84th Assembly District Leader, Israel Martinez breaks down as he speaks to the panel and discloses that 4 of his neighbors are in the hospital and another was one of the 7 victims of the disease.
84th Assembly District Leader, Israel Martinez breaks down as he speaks to the panel and discloses that 4 of his neighbors are in the hospital and another was one of the 7 victims of the disease.

Yet one building had 8 individuals who were infected with one victim who passed away and District Leader Israel Martinez, from the 84th Assembly District which covers Carmen Arroyo’s district came forth and broke down crying because 4 of his neighbors from his building at 787 E 149th Street are in the hospital due to Legionnaires’ and another was one of the 7 victims that passed away from this outbreak.

Clearly we are being presented with evidence of clusters in buildings that have not yet been identified as contaminated which runs contrary to what Health Commissioner Dr Mary Travis Bassett, MD responded to Welcome2TheBronx’s question.

Life long resident, Nick Leshi said,  “Seven dead so far. Unacceptable. If this was anywhere else besides the South Bronx there would be a national outcry like there was for the Ebola scare. The Department of Health needs to be held accountable and so do those company landlords. They’re handing out flyers to educate the public on Legionnaires’ Disease but this happened in Co-op City too. The public has no control over this—elected officials need to step up and make sure our water infrastructure is safe.” As a commenter said, Leshi added, “The politicians are spinning this into something fairly isolated, but it’s a larger, systemic issue.”

Erin Brockovich, the legal clerk and environmental activist who gained fame after Julia Roberts portrayed her in the movie by her name, went out publicly on the Bronx outbreak and said the following on her Facebook page yesterday:

“Now 4 Dead, 71 Sickened Amid Legionnaires’ Outbreak in NYC

The Legionella bacteria has been detected across the greater Bronx area. If it were one cooling tower here – another there… maybe, but it has infected many locations.

The water system is compromised, disinfection has failed…and so has your government.”


Bronx Borough President said, “We’re not at the level of panic but anxiety is very high.” but many Bronx residents do not agree with that. People are anxious and clearly indicated they are panicking due all the uncertainties with this outbreak.

Letter addressed to faculty, staff and parents of children attending Success Academy Charter Schools fro Eva Moskowitz.

Parents are panicking about schools to which Eva Moskowitz founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools sent an email stating that they are, “…in close contact with the Department of Education to make sure that all our school buildings have been tested, and remain safe.”

A parent from one of the schools called to find out whether the school had been tested and they were told yes by the school’s administration but they, “…don’t have official reports from the DOE and the City to share with the parents.”

The South Bronx and The Bronx needs the our government officials from local to the State level to step up their game and increase the speed and manpower in this investigation.

Today Mayor de Blasio announced that the number of new cases are dropping and that his administration will be working on designing legislation on halting future outbreaks. Along with the Health Commissioner Bassett, they both continue to state that the drinking water is safe but how do we know that if it hasn’t been tested? How do we know if the faucets and showers at the homes and workplaces of the cases haven’t been tested?

The Town Hall meeting was filled to capacity and many complained that the venue was too small.
The Town Hall meeting was filled to capacity and many complained that the venue was too small.

During today’s press conference they continue to blame the cooling towers but what about the 2 aforementioned clusters in the two buildings? Again, if these homes haven’t been tested, we cannot rule out the drinking water supplies of the buildings where these people live.

Dr Bassett also said that people with asthma and respiratory ailments are more susceptible to Legionnaires’ and Public Advocate Leticia James added that people with HIV and compromised immune systems are at greater risk.

These are two conditions which are highest in the South Bronx where the outbreak has occurred. We have 8x the national rate asthma in our population and we have 15x the rate of hospitalization from asthma.

The Bronx also has the highest rate of HIV infections in NYC mostly concentrated in The South Bronx which makes this a dangerous situation for our most vulnerable populations.

We will not sit by silently while our friends, family, and neighbors are sickened by this disease and the city hasn’t done its due diligence by testing the homes of the 81 cases thus far. It is negligent in my personal opinion that New York City’s Department of Health is not covering all bases.

Call NYS Governor Cuomo at 518-474-8390 and choose option #3 and demand that investigation is stepped up on both the State level along with the Federal level by calling in the CDC.

Call NYS Health Commissioner Howard A. Zucker, MD at 518-474-2011 and demand that investigation is stepped up on both the State level along with the Federal level by calling in the CDC.

Last night’s Town Hall Meeting at The Bronx Museum:

Mayor de Blasio’s Press Conference today at Lincoln Hospital:

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.