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Legionella continues to plague West Orange schools after test results revealed elevated levels in nine of them. The bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease also was discovered in the New Jersey school district’s administrative building.

There have been no confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease, prompting West Orange Public School District superintendent Jeffrey Rutzky to say: “There is no reason to close the schools.”

The nine schools that returned positive tests:

  • Edison Middle School
  • Gregory Elementary School
  • Hazel Elementary School
  • Mt. Pleasant Elementary School
  • Redwood Elementary School
  • Roosevelt Middle School
  • St. Cloud Elementary School
  • Washington Elementary School
  • West Orange High School.

“We want to make sure everybody is safe; we want to make sure the water is safe,” Rutzky told PIX11 News. “We’re doing filters, changing out piping, and then the chlorination process.”

The schools that tested negative for Legionella were Betty Maddalena Early Learning Center, Kelly Elementary School, and Liberty Middle School.

West Orange schools:
timeline

West Orange has been battling Legionella issues since late July. That month, a municipal worker contracted Legionnaires’ disease, and Legionella was found in the city’s Town Hall, one of two buildings in which the employee worked.

Testing was ordered in early August at more than 12 municipal buildings, and the bacteria was discovered in six city properties: Fire Headquarters, Firehouse No. 2, Firehouse No. 4, Police Headquarters, and field houses at Lafayette Park and O’Connor Park.

In mid-August, Legionella was discovered in the water at Redwood Elementary School after a parent whose child was at summer camp there reported her child sick with what a doctor said could be Legionnaires’ disease. Rutzky, however, said the child eventually was determined not to have the disease.

Tests show Legionella in 9 of 12 West Orange schools

Legionella continues to plague West Orange schools after test results revealed elevated levels in nine of 12 of them in the New Jersey city. (Above: West Orange Town Hall)

West Orange schools:
Redwood remediation

Officials began remediation efforts at Redwood after Aug. 14 test results showed four of 15 samples had elevated levels of Legionella.

On Aug. 30, New Jersey American Water tested sinks and water fountains at Redwood for coliform bacteria. The results were satisfactory by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) standards, according to a statement released by Rutzky.

West Orange schools:
the process

Even though Redwood’s samples met the standard, OMEGA Environmental Services was hired to disinfect the water system using a hyper-chlorinated solution. The disinfection procedure, performed Sept. 10 and 11, included:

  • Chlorine is pumped into the hot water heater and remains in the tank for four hours to eliminate bacteria.
  • Chlorine is then pumped through the hot water piping system and stays in the system for 14 hours to eliminate bacteria.
  • Chlorinated water is drained from the hot water tank and piping system, and then the system is flushed with fresh water.
  • Water samples are drawn and retested after the hyper-chlorination procedure to verify that the water meets SDWA standards.

Remediation efforts at Redwood included:

  • Installing filters on the water sources that tested positive.
  • Replacing faucets in those areas.
  • Proactively and temporarily covering all water fountains. (Note: Legionella only presents a risk to people exposed to airborne droplets, not from drinking affected water.)
  • Removing, cleaning and sanitizing all aerators.
  • Changes in the plumbing system will be done to minimize the potential for future bacterial growth.

West Orange schools:
comprehensive efforts

“We will continue to be diligent in our approach to remediate the water sources that tested positive for Legionella bacteria and proactive in completing the process as quickly as possible,” Rutzky wrote in a statement.

To that end, the same procedures will be performed at all schools and district facilities that showed positive first tests performed by Omega Environmental and retesting performed by Garden State Environmental:

  • Mt. Pleasant and St. Cloud already have undergone chlorination and retesting processes.
  • Hazel has had the chlorination process completed, and retesting will be completed this week.
  • Gregory, Washington and the Administration Building will have the chlorination process completed Oct. 5-6, Oct. 12-13 or Oct. 19-20. Retesting will be done approximately four days after that process.
  • Edison and Roosevelt will have the chlorination process completed on Oct. 26-27 or Nov. 2-3. Retesting will be done approximately four days after that process.
  • West Orange High School will be completed on Nov. 8 to 11. Retesting will be done approximately four days after that process.

West Orange schools:
the disease

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia (lung infection) that is also known as legionellosis and Legionella pneumonia. An estimated 25,000 Americans yearly develop pneumonia due to Legionella bacteria (Legionella pneumophila), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates.

Only 5,000 cases are reported, however, because of its nonspecific signs and symptoms. In addition, about 10 percent of those who become infected with Legionnaires’ disease will die from the infection.

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

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are similar to those of other types of pneumonia, and they can even resemble those of flu. That’s why the disease often goes under-reported.

Disease symptoms include:

  • coughing
  • difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
  • high fever
  • muscle pains
  • severe headaches
  • gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, etc.)