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Water testing at more than 12 municipal buildings in West Orange, NJ, revealed elevated levels of Legionella bacteria at six buildings and properties, town officials said. Legionella is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, a sometimes-deadly respiratory illness.

Testing was ordered after a city employee was hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease and a test of the West Orange Town Hall – one of two municipal buildings in which the employee worked – was positive for Legionella. The employee has since returned to work.

The buildings that test positive for Legionella were Fire Headquarters, Firehouse No. 2, Firehouse No. 4 and Police Headquarters. In addition, the field houses at Lafayette Park and O’Connor Park also were positive. Officials reassured the public that the two parks’ recreation areas were now free from Legionella.

West Orange: actions taken

According to Mayor Robert Parisi, West Orange immediately shut down the water supply at all affected properties and ordered the same remediation efforts that had been taken at Town Hall.

“This means filters will be installed, bottled water made available immediately, and all plumbing flushed to eliminate any bacteria,” Parisi told West Orange Patch. “We have been advised by expert consultants, including New Jersey American Water (NJAW), that these steps will fully remedy the current situation.”

Legionella a growing dilemma for West Orange, NJ

Water testing at more than 12 municipal buildings in West Orange, NJ, showed elevated levels of Legionella bacteria at six buildings and properties.(Pictured: West Orange Town Hall)

West Orange: NJAW statement

NJAW released this statement about the West Orange situation:

“Providing safe water is New Jersey American Water’s number one priority and a responsibility we share with all our customers. 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. 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.”

West Orange: citywide testing

Before the latest positive tests, West Orange business administrator John Sayers said that – based on the opinions of experts – town officials believe the worker did not get sick from the Town Hall’s water because more than one person would likely have contracted Legionnaires’ disease.

Officials announced at a city council meeting they have hired Omega Environmental Services to oversee testing of all 17 municipal buildings to ensure the safety of the water. The water supply at Town Hall and the Department of Public Works building – the two buildings at which the sickened employee worked – was previously remediated.

“The following facts exist with regard to Legionella,” said Theresa De Nova, West Orange Health & Welfare health officer. “It is not contagious, person to person. … It cannot be contracted by drinking or touching water. And the way it is contracted is by inhaling contaminated water mist.”

West Orange: Legionnaires’ info

A variety of factors, both internal and external can lead to a Legionella problem in buildings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Those factors include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • construction
  • water main breaks
  • changes in municipal water quality
  • biofilm, scale and sediment
  • fluctuations in the water temperature
  • pH fluctuations
  • inadequate levels of disinfectant
  • changes in water pressure
  • water stagnation.

Where Legionella grow
Legionella bacteria can grow in many parts of a building’s water system that is continually wet, and certain devices can spread contaminated water droplets.

Examples of devices where Legionella can grow and spread through aerosolization or aspiration (when water accidentally goes into the lungs while drinking) include:

  • water storage tanks (hot or cold)
  • water heaters, water filters, and water hammer arrestors
  • expansion tanks
  • faucets (manual or electric)
  • aerators
  • faucet flow restrictors
  • showerheads and hoses
  • pipes, valves, and fittings
  • centrally installed misters, atomizers, air washers, and humidifiers
  • nonstream aerosol-generating humidifiers
  • infrequently used equipment (eyewash stations, for instance)
  • ice machines
  • hot tubs
  • decorative fountains
  • cooling towers
  • medical equipment (CPAP machines, hydrotherapy equipment, and bronchoscopes, for instance).

What it is
Legionnaires’ disease is also known as legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia. It is a severe type of pneumonia, or lung infection.

According to the CDC, an estimated 25,000 cases of pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila) occur yearly in the United States, but only 5,000 cases are reported because of the disease’s nonspecific signs and symptoms.

In addition, 10 percent of people who contract Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.

High-risk categories
Legionella bacteria are contracted by inhaling microscopic water droplets (vapor or mist). The bacteria grow best in warm water, and they are found primarily in human-made environments.

Anyone can become ill from Legionella, but those most susceptible to infection include:

  • people 50 or older
  • smokers, both current and former
  • heavy drinkers of alcohol
  • people with chronic lung disease
  • people with weakened immune systems
  • organ-transplant recipients
  • anyone on a specific drug protocol (corticosteroids, for instance).

Legionnaire’s symptoms
The symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are similar to those of other types of pneumonia and can even resemble those of influenza (flu). Those symptoms include:

  • coughing
  • dyspnea (shortness of breath)
  • high fever
  • muscle pains
  • severe headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, etc.).