Legionella bacteria found in Milton-Union Schools water samples

WEST MILTON — Extensive testing confirmed the presence of Legionella bacteria in water samples at Milton-Union Schools.

Two water outlets tested positive for Legionella on the cold water side rather than the hot water.

The outlets are currently not available for use in the school.

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West Milton Water Supervisor and Chief Inspector Tim Swartztrauber said they began checking water back in early July. Swartztrauber said they flushed the system and put chlorine back in the water to test it again. Swartztrauber said as they rechecked the chlorine levels had gone back to zero so he knew there was a problem.

Eventually Swartztrauber was able to connect with Dr. Andrew Whelton, an associate professor of civil, environmental, and ecological engineering at Purdue University.

Through a federal grant Dr. Whelton and his team of 19 people were able to take more than 1,000 samples and perform more than 1,500 tests that cost approximately $70,000 at no cost to the village nor schools.

“Ice machines we tested it all,” Swartztrauber said. “Luckily we did because we did find legionella. We tested every drinking fountain and we got it in a drinking fountain. Without that this probably would have been missed.”

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Swartztrauber said normal testing likely would have missed the Legionella because it would have been on the hot water side and only a few places throughout the school compared to this comprehensive testing.

“This study to my knowledge is the most intense expansive study of a school building water system that I’m aware of,” Whelton said. “It wouldn’t have been possible without the utility and the school working together.”

The funding provided to Purdue comes from the National Science Foundation. Whelton said the grant is specifically for “Helping communities, building owners, schools with building water safety issues because of the pandemic.”

The school district has scheduled Solid Blend Technologies for treatment and disinfection for Friday August 28th at 8 a.m.

Whelton’s hope is that more schools will establish water management and safety plans to outline steps and protocols for preparing the facility for low occupancy periods or shutdowns.

Whelton said there’s an overall lack of data on what levels of legionella in water presents a concern.

“If somebody contracts legionella and legionnaires disease the exposure can be fatal,” Whelton said. “So it is serious.”

Swartztrauber’s persistence in being proactive to find and fix the potential hazard is being praised by many. He said he hopes this opens eyes and leads to more regulations at some level and that others would focus on doing similar work with larger buildings like schools to ensure safety, especially with the shutdowns related to the pandemic.

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"We know we're giving them good water to the door, we need to start caring about the water that's going through the door," Swartztrauber said.

For more on Purdue and Whelton’s research you can visit https://engineering.purdue.edu/PlumbingSafety.

James Rider

James Rider

I was born in Virginia and have moved several times in my life as a member of an Air Force family. I've lived in Virginia, California, Germany, England, and Ohio. I graduated from Centerville High School and then went on to attend Ball State University where I graduated with a bachelor's degree.

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