2017 Was Record Year for Legionnaires’ in NYC Despite New Regulations After 2015 Bronx Outbreak

According to experts, including Dr Yu who classified Legionella back in 1982, our drinking water supply should be tested as it is virtually always the source of outbreaks.

Legionnaires’ cases in New York City have increased by 65% in 2017 as compared to 2016.

It even surpasses 2015 when New York City recorded the worst outbreak of legionnaires’ in its history with 133 Bronx residents contracting the disease which resulted in 16 deaths (not counting the school teacher who died right before) the city enacted a series of clearly failed measures to curtail the disease by forcing strict inspections of water cooling towers.

Welcome2TheBronx went face to face at public hearings with the Department of Health asking why the city was neglecting to cite the water supply as the source of contamination and despite leading legionnaires’ expert, along with the Centers for Disease Control, and the EPA stating that the overwhelming cases of outbreaks results from the drinking supply, the city denied that the source was our public drinking supply.

Why? Because they didn’t even bother testing it as per protocol.

Several weeks later at the site of one of the outbreaks at Melrose Houses, the water drinking supply was found to be contaminated, something NYC’s Health Commissioner Dr Mary T Bassett said wasn’t the cause and they didn’t see a pattern.

Months later, a doctor from Lincoln Hospital took it upon himself to test patient homes and found the source to indeed be the water supply in bathroom shower heads and faucets. He was subsequently fired because he KNEW that the city was wrong in focusing on water cooling towers as the source of the disease.

The Alliance for the Prevention of Legionnaires’ Disease has issued a forceful statement slamming the city’s efforts or lack thereof in trying to address the health crisis:

“Unfortunately we continue to see cases of Legionnaires’ disease climb in New York,” said APLD Spokesperson Daryn Cline. “This is especially troubling since New York is holding itself out as the leader in Legionnaires’ disease prevention. The truth of the matter is their emphasis on water management inside the building has not had an impact on decreasing the rate of disease.”

“We are convinced that any meaningful reduction in Legionnaires’ disease in New York requires a focus on the complete water distribution system that supplies our homes and workplaces—from source to consumption,” added Cline.

New York led the nation again with 1,009 cases reported to the CDC—a 38 percent increase in cases compared to 2016. Of the state total, New York City recorded 441 cases—a 65 percent increase over 2016. In fact, New York City’s 2017 case total outpaced 2015—the year of the worst outbreak in New York City’s history.

“These continuous increases are exactly why more resources must be dedicated to better understand the relationship between waterborne pathogens such as Legionella and our public water supply and distribution system,” said Tonya Winders, President and CEO of Allergy & Asthma Network, and APLD member. “The fact remains that water containingLegionella bacteria from the public water supply is entering homes and buildings, and—as a result—people are getting sick. Some are dying.”

The Alliance has been critical of the New York City and State’s response to preventing cases of Legionnaires’ disease since regulations were put in place after the Bronx outbreak in 2015. The group’s main contention is that the regulations are too narrowly focused on building equipment and do not address the source problem—Legionella entering buildings from the public water supply and distribution system.

“Building equipment uses the same water source that supplies our showerheads and faucets. Without addressing the bacteria entering our buildings from the public distribution system, the issues we face with Legionella are not going to end,” said John Letson, Vice President of Plant Operations at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “According to the CDC, 35 percent of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks can be attributed to conditions and disruptions to water service outside of the building. In order to keep people safe, especially those with compromised immune systems and patients receiving out-patient care, more must be done to remove the threat of Legionella in our public water.”

Among other things, the APLD is a staunch advocate of mandating that every case of Legionnaires’ disease undergoes a comprehensive investigation in an effort to better understand how to prevent the disease. The group also urges for more resources to be allocated to gain a better understanding of how aging infrastructure, heavy rain and flooding events, and the wider implementation of low-flow appliances are impacting the increase.

“The most important thing to remember is that Legionnaires’ disease is a waterborne illness so water must be the focus of any preventive measure,” added Winders. “Any solution that doesn’t address the bacteria entering our homes and buildings from the public water supply and distribution system is not a solution at all.”


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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.