Districts testing for Legionella after 3 area schools discover bacteria in water systems

MIAMI VALLEY — Wednesday, 11 school districts in the Miami Valley told News Center 7 they are either testing for legionella bacteria in their water systems or flushing their water pipes, or both, to prevent the germ from building up there as a part of their back to school plans.

Legionella bacteria causes a dangerous, and sometimes deadly, form of pneumonia known as Legionnaires’ disease. So far this summer, three local districts – Kettering City Schools, Vandalia Butler City Schools and Northmont City Schools – have found the germ in the water supplies in their buildings.

Many local school buildings have been sitting empty, or at the very least under-utilized since mid-March and that’s the exact scenario where the dangerous bacteria can crop up in the water system.

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Just this week, testing uncovered legionella in four different parts of the water system at Butler High School in Vandalia and at a bathroom faucet at Englewood Elementary. In July, Kettering City Schools found the pathogen in the water at Fairmont High School.

“Anytime a building has been sitting dormant for a period of time, that is when that water system can build up that bacteria,” said Dan Suffoletto, Public Information Supervisor with Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County. “So it’s a good idea to make sure you are flushing that system thoroughly.”

All three districts that have found legionella in their water systems this summer have uncovered the germ through testing. Suffoletto says that’s a good thing. “Because then you can make arrangements to do treatment to the water to make sure the bacteria goes away.”

Kettering, Northmont and Vandalia-Butler Schools all told WHIO they’ve either disinfected or flushed their water systems, or both, to get rid of the legionella bacteria in their buildings.

The districts were three of the 21 public districts throughout the Miami Valley that News Center 7 reached out to this week to see whether guarding against legionella bacteria is part of their back to school plans.

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As of 5:00 Wednesday afternoon, 11 districts responded to News Center 7 to say they’re either tested or will test water systems before school starts, or they’ve been keeping up with flushing their water pipes at buildings that have been under-used since mid-March when Ohio Governor Mike DeWine shutdown schools to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the Buckeye State.

There are precautions being taken in the business community too. Many local office buildings and other businesses fit the bill of places that have been sitting empty or under-utilized since March. That’s why the Dayton-Area Chamber of Commerce is doing its part to remind its more-than 2,200 hundred business members across nine local counties, about protecting against the build-up of legionella bacteria in water systems.

>>Kettering schools taking safety measures after Legionella found in water at Fairmont High

“I hate to use that word unprecedented because it’s been used so many times but it really is,” said Holly Allen, Director of Marketing and Communications for the Dayton-Area Chamber of Commerce. “Many of our businesses have never done anything like this before. They’ve never had to leave their buildings sit. We sent out notifications to them that they want to make sure that they are flushing out their water systems to prepare for their work force to come back. It’s something we wanted them to be aware of. It’s not something that you often think about. Because it’s not often that office buildings are sitting empty.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Legionnaires’ disease is typically not spread person-to-person. Health officials with Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County say you cannot get the disease from drinking water contaminated with legionella bacteria or washing your hands with it.

“We want to remind people that drinking the water is not a way you can contract legionella,” Suffoletto said. “It comes through aerosolized spray in the water. So that would be things like showers, fountains, drinking fountains, saunas, hot tubs, those type of things that have an aerosolized spray is where you’re going to most likely see a build-up of bacteria. This is an aerosolized spray so it’s really about the mist in the air that comes from the water. You’re not ingesting in a sense like you’re eating or drinking, you’re breathing it into your lungs.”

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