WEST ORANGE, NJ — Three weeks after West Orange officials announced they had found elevated levels of legionella bacteria in the water sources at Town Hall, test results of the township’s other municipal buildings revealed six other locations also have elevated levels of the bacteria. According to an Aug. 15 press release, internal plumbing was shut down at West Orange Fire Headquarters, Firehouse No. 2, Firehouse No. 4, Police Headquarters, O’Connor Park and Lafayette Park after the township found the bacteria in those places’ internal building plumbing.
According to the release, the West Orange Public Library and 10 other municipal locations are completely safe and have no elevated levels of legionella. The township is working to eliminate the bacteria found in the other locations.
“We are implementing the same remedial steps which have been taken concerning the West Orange Municipal Building,” the press release read. “This means filters will be installed, bottled water made available immediately, and all plumbing flushed to eliminate any bacteria. We have been advised by expert consultants including New Jersey American Water that these steps will fully remedy the current situation.”
According to West Orange Public Information Officer Susan Anderson in an email to the West Orange Chronicle on Friday, Aug. 17, all the facilities with legionella bacteria are still usable. Amid the remediation, Anderson said filters have been installed at each location.
Anderson also said West Orange residents have no reason to be concerned.
“No one should be concerned,” she said. “The one and only reported case had nothing to do with any of these sites and everything is being done in a precautionary manner. This is a plumbing issue caused by certain antiquated plumbing, which will be flushed and updated as directed by our outside experts, who are working on a daily basis to implement the appropriate fixes.”
A township employee was hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease in mid-July, but Business Administrator Jack Sayers said at the Aug. 7 council meeting that it was unlikely the employee had contracted the illness at Town Hall.
“When we spoke with the experts they said, usually when it’s in a place, only one person doesn’t contract it,” Sayers said at the meeting. “It’s usually more than one person. And we’re now almost four weeks from when it happened and no one else has contracted it. So they believe it happened from somewhere else, but we don’t know that 100 percent.”
Anderson said in an Aug. 18 email to the Chronicle that no other township employees have contracted the disease.
“Although the drinking water we deliver is treated and meets all federal and state water quality standards and requirements, the quality of that water can change once it leaves our pipes and enters domestic plumbing systems,” Kevin Watsey, vice president of government affairs at New Jersey American Water, said in the press release.
“When we became aware of the issues the township of West Orange experienced with legionella in the plumbing infrastructure of its Municipal Township Building, we began proactively working with Mayor Parisi, his staff, health officials and town consultants to provide expert guidance and assistance as the town works to remedy this situation. We are committed to helping the township resolve this issue as they work to disinfect and upgrade their building systems to ensure a healthy and safe work environment for their employees.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic
Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify that the legionella bacteria was found by the township in the internal plumbing of the six identified locations, not in the water provided by New Jersey American Water, nor in NJAW’s plumbing.