A new building at 1325 Jerome Ave. that houses a Bronx charter school and low-income apartments has been identified as a source of the Highbridge Legionnaires’ outbreak.
The west Bronx neighborhood saw 30 cases of Legionnaires’ disease with 28 people hospitalized, with cases starting to pop up in early May. Four are still in the hospital and two have people died from the outbreak.
The city health department first identified Legionella bacteria in four towers after rapid testing, then narrowed the investigation down to three towers, which had live bacteria. The department has now revealed that the Jerome Avenue cooling tower had the same strain found in two patients, linking the cooling tower to the outbreak.
The Jerome Avenue location was the only match between human and cooling tower specimens that resulted from the city health department’s investigation, department spokesperson Patrick Gallahue told the Bronx Times. Gallahue could not provide an update on the hospitalized patients on Monday.
The building owner was ordered to immediately disinfect the tower on May 23 and perform additional remediation on June 3. According to health officials, the owner complied and is working with the department on a long-term management plan. The site was sampled at the beginning of the health department’s investigation on May 20.
According to city records, the building is owned by 1331 Jerome Avenue Housing Development Fund. But it’s an advertised project of the Doe Fund, an organization that develops affordable housing with a mission to break cycles of poverty, homelessness and recidivism through housing, support services and economic opportunity.
The 15-story building was announced as a Doe Fund project in April 2019 and opened with 225 apartment units in July 2021, according to the fund.
One of the Zeta charter schools’ three Bronx locations is housed in the same 1325 Jerome Ave. building. The school teaches pre-K, kindergarten and first grade at the site, according to the city Department of Education.
The $100 million development was completed with development and construction firms Bolivar Development and Bolivar Builders, spinoffs of Atlantic Development.
Gallahue could not answer on Monday if the owner will face repercussions.
Verizon recently came to an agreement with the state attorney general’s office for allegedly breaking cooling tower maintenance laws meant to prevent the spread of the disease that were penned in response to a 2015 Bronx outbreak.
City health officials determined on Friday that the west Bronx cluster concluded, as no new cases had been identified from area residents with symptoms beginning in the last four weeks, or two incubation periods of the disease.
“Thank you to the dozens of elected officials and community leaders who worked with the Department to inform residents in the area about proper precautions,” NYC health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan said in a press release. “The Department’s investigation was able to identify one cooling tower that had a genetic match with patient specimens, and the cooling tower was ordered to take additional cleaning and disinfection measures.”
The city DOE referred the Bronx Times to the charter school for comment, saying it is independently run. The Bronx Times has reached out to both Zeta and the Doe Fund and is awaiting responses.
Legionnaires’ disease is a pneumonia caused by the bacteria Legionella, which grows in warm water. People ages 50 and older, cigarette smokers and people with chronic lung disease and compromised immune systems are at high risk of the disease. Symptoms can include a fever, chills, muscle aches and cough.
Most cases of the disease can be traced to contaminated artificial water systems where the bacteria can grow, such as cooling towers. People can get the disease by breathing in water vapor emanating from the towers outside.
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