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Second Washington Heights Legionnaires Disease Outbreak

Posted in Legionnaire's disease,Outbreaks & Recalls on October 6, 2018

We’ve seen a lot of cases of Legionnaires’ disease this year and are representing several families and individuals who have fallen ill with Legionnaires disease. Recent events in Washington Heights, New York, are proving that the legionella bacteria is not something to dismiss! Health officials are currently investigated the second outbreak of Legionnaires disease that Washington Heights has seen since July of this year! Here is what you need to know about the second Washington Heights Legionnaires Disease Outbreak .

Second Outbreak Details

The Health Department is currently investigating a cluster of Legionnaires’ disease in Washington Heights where eight people have been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ within a brief five day period. Every one of these patients have been hospitalized due to the illness, with one discharged already. As is common with Legionnaires’ disease, the patients are all middle-aged to elderly with ages ranging from 40 to 80 years old. The majority of the patients, however, were over the age of 50.

Due to the severity of an outbreak earlier this summer, caused by the same disease, the Health Department responded immediately. According to Dr. Oxiris Barbot, the Acting Health Department Commissioner, “The Health Department has identified a second cluster this season of Legionnaires disease in the Lower Washington Heights area and we are taking aggressive steps to ensure the safety of residents.”

Thankfully, there have been no deaths associated with this cluster of Legionnaires disease and the Health Department has been successful in finding a source of the disease. The Health Department dutifully sampled 20 cooling towers within a one mile radius of the reported illnesses, many of which tested positive. Legionella bacteria was quickly discovered in a cooling tower that was connected to commercial air conditioning units, meaning that the bacteria easily made its way through the AC and was later inhaled by the sick patients. In a recent press release, the city’s Department of Health said, that these “cooling towers that test positive for legionella will immediately be ordered to increase biocide.”

Importantly, officials have made it clear that legionella bacteria was not found in the water supply itself, making the water completely safe to drink. According to ABC news, “The Health Department will be holding a community meeting on Monday, October 8th at the Jackie Robinson Recreation Center at 85 Bradhurst Ave. at 6 p.m.”

July Outbreak Details

Back in July, 27 people ended up sick with Legionnaires’ disease. The summer outbreak claimed one life and left many in the hospital. Many who fell ill, including the individual who died, were older than 50 years old. This outbreak lead to local politicians demanding greater transparency and a more severe punishment for buildings with cooling towers that fail inspection. The current fine for the first violation is $2,000, and any finds for subsequent safety violations are not allowed to exceed $5,000. For a building with a failed inspection on their towers that somehow leads to even a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, the fine does not surpass $10,000.

A New York City councilman and New York state senator believe these numbers aren’t properly protecting their citizens. They said back in July that the Department of Buildings should be providing their public with more information about the cooling towers, especially those that get the blame for spreading legionella bacteria and causing Legionnaires’ disease.

It’s understood that cooling towers release some kind of vapor, and often this vapor is contaminated with toxins or bacteria, commonly the legionella bacteria that causes Legionnaires. Since this is such a common occurrence, these towers are supposed to be inspected every year, but according to City Councilman, Ydanis Rodriguez, he cannot obtain any data whatsoever about inspections completed on the towers, or violations for the towers in Washington Heights and Lower Hamilton Heights.

Rodriguez said, “That information had to be collected, because of the open data system that we follow in our city. However, it is not easy to navigate and identify this information.” Rodriguez and State Senator Marisol Alcantara, who apparently lives within the contaminated area, have both called the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in the hopes that they will release the information about the cooling towers for the public to better understand the situation.

The outbreak in July killed a person, to which a Washington Heights resident responded, “Very sad, just devastating. I feel very bad for the person. It just brings you aware of something you never really thought too much about in your life.” According to another resident, “They need to find out where it’s coming from so nobody else passes away.” Rodriguez responded by saying that he wanted information about the inspections as well as the fines to be available to the public. This was not the first time Legionnaires’ disease had plagued the city, as two years prior an outbreak spread in the Bronx that killed 12.

Whether or not Rodriguez or Alcantara’s efforts were successful or not, cooling towers apparently continue to sicken people with legionella. Health department officials said back in July that all the towers were inspected and contamination results were pending. “For now,” Deputy Commissioner for Disease Control, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, said in July, “everything is safe in the neighborhood. Drinking water is safe. You should wash and bathe with that water.”


Legionnaires’ disease is a terrible lung infection, not altogether unlike pneumonia though usually far more serious, such that can result in death. New York Health Department officials are certainly working hard on identifying the cause of the current outbreak in order to end it as soon as possible, but is it possible that more could be done to prevent future outbreaks? Identifying legionella bacteria in water towers is one of the clearest signs that Legionnaires’ disease will spread, and since this bacteria is especially dangerous to a wide variety of U.S. citizens (such as the elderly, former smokers, and people with preexisting health conditions), perhaps cooling tower inspections should be taken more seriously.

If you or anyone you know are experiencing symptoms similar to Legionnaires’ disease, contact your doctor immediately. Early treatment is key in preventing a death and restoring health as quickly as possible.

Our Legionnaires’ Lawyer is Here to Help You

If you believe you have developed Legionnaires’ disease, we want you to know that a Legionnaires’ Lawyer at the Lange Law Firm, PLLC is currently investigating this matter and offering free legal consultations. Our lawyer, Jory Lange became a lawyer to help make our communities and families safer. Our firm already represents several families in the first Washington Heights outbreak.

If you or a loved one have become ill with Legionnaires’ disease, you can call (833) 330-3663 for a free consultation or complete the form here.

By: Abigail Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)