The fat lady sings

The fat lady sings
Photo by Silvio Pacifico

The largest outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the city’s history has been declared over, and the source has been identified.

City, state and federal health officials announced on August 20 that the Mott Have-based outbreak originated in the cooling towers of the newly refurbished Opera House Hotel.

Since the outbreak began on July 10, 124 people fell ill with the form of pneumonia and 12 died. No new cases were identified after August 3.

The disease is caused by the Legionella bacteria, found in water, which can grow to unsafe levels in warm environments such as in a cooling tower.

People contract the disease when they breathe in a mist or vapor containing the bacteria.

With extensive sampling of cooling towers and testing of Legionella bacteria, the laboratories have matched the Legionella strain found in the Opera House Hotel cooling tower with the strain found in patients.

Further investigation by the Health Department supports the conclusion that this cooling tower was the source of the outbreak, according to a statement from the mayor’s office.

The Health Department continues to investigate the circumstances that led this cooling tower to become the outbreak source; inadequate maintenance and inadequate levels of biocide may have contributed, according to the statement.

The hotel has cooperated fully with all agencies involved in the investigation, has cleaned and disinfected its tower, and is working with the Health Department on long-term maintenance that is consistent with industry standards.

A statement from the hotel in the wake of the news said the findings were “disapointing.”

“It’s particularly disappointing because our system is two years old, has the most up-to-date technology available and our maintenance plan has been consistent with the regulations that both the city and the state are putting in place,” the statement reads.

The Opera House Hotel supports the recent legislation to regulate the cooling towers, and said they intend to go above and beyond the new requirement to test the towers every 90 days, instead testing every 30 days when the tower is in operation.

“Given recent events, we have decided to be especially cautious going forward,” the statement reads.

The legislation to regulate cooling towers in the wake of the outbreak is the first of its kind in the nation, and was signed into immediate effect by Mayor de Blasio on August 18.

The legislation requires the registration of all cooling towers, annual certification, quarterly inspection, and reporting of increased microbes to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The legislation also mandates the disinfection of cooling towers with levels of microbes that pose potential health risks, and outlines monetary consequences for non-compliance.

“Historic legislation passed by the City Council and signed by Mayor de Blasio should help prevent tragic outbreaks like this from occurring again,” said Department of Health Commissioner Mary Bassett in a statement.

And although the outbreak is over, its effects are not finished.

The first lawsuit against the Opera House Hotel was recently filed by Ronald J. Katter on behalf of Leslie Noble, a 54-year-old man who was hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease.

The complaint accuses the defendant hotel of negligence, carelessness and recklessness, which contributed to the decline of Mr. Noble’s mental, physical and emotional health.

It also accuses the hotel ownership of failing to maintain the cleanliness of the cooling towers and the upkeep of the hotel’s structure.

Reach Reporter Jaime Williams at 718-260-4591. E-mail her at jwill[email protected]