WEST ORANGE, NJ — As cases of Legionnaires’ disease continue to crop up in New York and New Jersey, many public entities have been testing their buildings for legionella bacteria, which can cause the disease. In August, West Orange School District had Redwood Elementary School, where it found very low levels of legionella bacteria in four out of 15 samples taken. The district then remediated those water fixtures to remove the bacteria.
According to the school district, it was alerted that a child who had been attending summer camp at Redwood was ill with what their doctor said could be Legionnaires’ disease. Though it was later determined that the child, who is well again, did not have the disease, the district “immediately began environmental testing at Redwood and began to plan for testing all schools and facilities” in the district.
Garden State Environmental took 15 environmental samples at Redwood and testing showed four to have very low levels of the bacteria. The basement hot water heater was found to have less than 1 CFU/mL, or colony-forming unit, the measurement of viable bacterial cells per milliliter. The kitchen sink adjacent to the oven was found to have 4 CFU/mL; the nurse’s sink had 1 CFU/mL; and the art room had the most at 28 CFU/mL.
After receiving these results, the district implemented remedial steps as recommended by Garden State Environmental. These included: installing filters on the water sources that tested positive; replacing faucets in affected areas; covering all water fountains despite the disease not being transmittable by drinking affected water; and removing, cleaning and sanitizing all screens in all rooms.
Additionally, the district has hired OMEGA Environmental to perform a chlorination procedure to eliminate all bacteria in the building’s pipes. Following this procedure, the four areas that tested positive for legionella will be retested.
This testing comes after West Orange Township tested its buildings for legionella bacteria. The bacteria was found in internal building plumbing in West Orange Town Hall, Fire Headquarters, Firehouse No. 2, Firehouse No. 4, Police Headquarters, O’Connor Park and Lafayette Park. The town is similarly remediating all affected areas.
Personnel from the district, township, West Orange Health Department and Garden State Environmental met to discuss test results and remediation efforts so resources could be compared and utilized effectively between the district and township, according to the district.
Despite finding some elevated levels of legionella bacteria, the levels found have been relatively low and risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease is similarly low. As of now there has only been one case of Legionnaires’ disease; it was found in a man who worked in West Orange Town Hall, which is what prompted the testing there, though there is no proof that he contracted the disease while in the building.
“We have been advised of the following facts with regard to legionella,” West Orange Health Department Director Theresa DeNova said in the district’s release. “It is not contagious, person to person; it is not airborne; it cannot be contracted by drinking or touching water; and the way it is contracted is by inhaling contaminated mist.”
In addition to consulting with the township on this matter, the district has also been receiving guidance and assistance from New Jersey American Water, which supplies water to West Orange.
“Providing safe water is New Jersey American Water’s No. 1 priority and a responsibility we share with all our customers,” NJAW Vice President of Governmental Affairs Kevin Watsey said in the release. “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.
“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,” Watsey continued. “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.”