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Seven more cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been reported in Mercer County, an area served by Trenton Water Works since last October says the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH).
According to recent reports, the seven cases came from Trenton, Ewing Township, Lawrence Township, and Hamilton Township. Two of those infected have died.
An Ongoing Problem
This has been an ongoing problem. Legionella bacteria was previously detected in water supplies from homes served by Trenton Water Works. Between December 2021 and October 2022 health officials have indicated that five cases and one death were attributed to the bacteria. Another seven cases and two deaths have been reported between October 2022 and March 2023.
While people cannot get Legionnaires’ disease from other people or by drinking the water contaminated with the bacteria, people can become infected by breathing in small droplets.
Droplets from showerheads, hot tubs, garden water fixtures, etc. are common carriers.
Trenton Water Works Failures
Trenton Water Works has been on the State of New Jersey’s radar for a while now, citing significant concerns with operations and management, including intermittent failures in the treatment process, how they monitor water quality, and training deficiencies in operating personnel. The state has indicated a need for Trenton Water Works to invest in required maintenance and upgrade their aging infrastructure.
Problems became so serious that the state took over directing operations at the flailing water utility last October.
State Takes Over Trenton Water Works
After egregious lapse in safety and failed inspections, the State of New Jersey took over Trenton Water Works with a Unilateral Administrative Order. Governmental take-over does not occur on a whim. The significant safety risk and continued failures made this necessary.
For example, in addition to inadequate staffing, the facility failed to remove organic matter from filters, leaving the system susceptible to Giardia and Cryptosporidium parasites.
Their mixers and chlorination system have a history of multiple failures, leading to levels beyond acceptable limits of disinfection byproducts remaining in the drinking water.
The utility company has also been out of compliance in maintaining its seven-acre water reservoir. This “open, uncovered finished water reservoir” provides water to approximately 151,900 residential customers. This uncovered reservoir is vulnerable to human activity, algal growth, and animal waste. The state has requested Trenton Water Works to “cover” the reservoir, replace it, or provide adequate treatment to “address the pathogen risks.” A broken check valve was also allowing untreated water to flow into the treated water. The firm continues to fail to meet these requirements.
The list goes on and on.
Solution in Progress
Officials said that Trenton Water Works has solutions in progress. These solutions may actually take place now that they are directly under the thumb of the State.
The firm plans to address the contaminated water system by starting a “low-velocity flushing program” throughout the service area in early April to increase water circulation and to increase chlorine levels. Customers will be notified when these flushing activities are occurring in their service areas.
Health officials from NJDOH have briefed and working with elected representatives at the local and State level and will continue to collaborate with them throughout this ongoing investigation, says a report from New Jersey Health.
Residents and Building Owners Urged to Do Their Part
The current water supply issue is being worked on, but it will be an extended process. In the meantime, potentially contaminated water may still be in people’s homes and businesses.
The state Department of Health is urging building owners and residents who receive water from Trenton Water works to take a few small actions to reduce the risk of Legionella growth in building plumbing systems and homes.
If you do not know your water utility company, check your water bill. The utility company should be listed. If you rent, ask the property owner for this information.
Helpful activities include:
What is Legionnaires’ Disease
Legionnaires’ disease is the pneumonial illness associated with infection of Legionella bacteria. The bacteria infects a person by making its way into the lungs by way of tiny droplet containing the offending bacteria.
It is rare for a normally healthy person to become sick with Legionnaires’ disease, even after exposure. But certain groups of people are more susceptible to illness. For example, those who are over 50 years old, particularly those who smoke are more likely to become sick after exposure. Individuals with certain medical conditions such as chronic lung disease or other chronic health conditions are also at increased risk. Additionally, those with a compromised immune system from medication, existing illness, or other conditions are more likely to contract Legionnaires’ disease after exposure.
The symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease are similar to other common respiratory diseases. For example, cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches, and headaches are common. While easily treatable with the right antibiotics, Legionnaires’ disease can be fatal if not detected and treated early. Early treatment is key!
Tests for Legionella Infection
Specialized tests are necessary to ensure proper diagnosis of Legionella infection. According to NJDOH, “health officials continue to urge health care providers to collect lower respiratory specimens for Legionella PCR [a type of genetic test looking for the specific bacteria] and/or culture, in conjunction with the use of the urinary antigen test, when suspecting Legionnaires’ disease.”
While the urinary antigen test is the easiest to perform and the most common diagnostic method, it is limited to the strains of Legionella bacteria that it can detect. The preferred PCR and culture of lower respiratory specimens are able to detect all Legionella species and strains.
Are you concerned for yourself or someone you love that may have fallen ill with Legionnaires’ disease? Contact The Lange Law Firm, PLLC to schedule your free, no obligation legal consultation with a Legionnaires’ disease lawyer who has a reputation for success in handling cases just like yours. Call (833)330-3663 or fill out the online contact form to get the answers you deserve.