Health officials in New York say that cooling towers in the South Bronx that are linked to the outbreak of Legionnaires' disease are being cleaned and disinfected. The outbreak of the pneumonia disease has peaked, but has caused 12 deaths and sickened 113 people.
Even though the outbreak is subsiding, inspection and cleaning of the cooling towers that are on the roofs of many large buildings in New York will continue. There are thought to be 2,500 cooling towers around the city. The towers, which are used for heating, cooling, and air conditioning, are mostly found on the rooftops of modern buildings.
"This is literally unchartered territory ... We have never seen an outbreak of Legionnaires' like this in the history of New York City," Major Bill de Blasio told reporters. "We also know that this is an emerging reality not just here in this city but around our state and nation." He noted that city health officials have had to determine what was best to do as they were working through the crisis.
Cooling towers in eighteen buildings in the South Bronx tested positive for the bacteria and are thought to be the likely origination points for the outbreak. Another 161 buildings in the outbreak area were identified as potentially having cooling towers through the use of helicopters and satellite imaging. Officials have stressed that drinking and bathing water are safe to use throughout the city.
The legionella bacteria thrive in warm water. When contaminated water is aerosolized or evaporated into a mist, as it is in cooling towers, the mist can carry the bacteria into the lungs. It causes a form of pneumonia that is especially serious in the elderly and in people with underlying health problems. Of the 12 deaths, all but one was over 40 years old and all had other medical conditions. A few more cases may emerge because Legionnaires' has a 10-day long incubation period, but the bulk of the outbreak appears to be over.