Three school buildings in Elgin, IL, a suburb of Chicago, have been closed because air quality testing of water cooling towers found elevated levels of legionella bacteria, the organism that causes Legionnaires' disease. Students were sent home until after the cooling towers are cleaned and disinfected, a school official said.
The buildings that were closed include a high school, a middle school, and a building that houses central district offices and a separate high school program, according to Tony Sanders, chief executive for District U-46 in Elgin, which is northwest of Chicago.
All 19 water cooling towers were being cleaned and disinfected to remove legionella bacteria. The district did not say whether any illnesses were reported in connection with the presence of the bacteria.
"While risk of exposure to the bacteria was low, we decided, in consultation with the Kane County Health Department, to evacuate staff and students to safe locations as a precaution," according to a statement on the district's website.
The school district is large and serves about 40,000 students in Elgin. It is the second largest school district in Illinois and has five high schools, eight middle schools and 40 elementary schools.
Legionnaires' disease is a type of pneumonia caused by inhaling mist that contains legionella bacteria. Cooling towers on top of large buildings that are part of the building's air conditioning emit mist. Mist can also come from fountains, hot tubs, or showers. The disease is not transmitted by drinking contaminated water nor can it be transmitted from person to person. Legionnaires' disease can lead to severe pneumonia, respiratory failure, kidney failure and septic shock. It is especially dangerous for elderly people or those who have other underlying diseases.
There have been several outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease in recent months. Outbreaks have killed a dozen people in New York City; 13 at a veterans' home in Quincy, Illinois; and sickened scores of inmates at a California prison.