AG reaches agreement with Verizon following alleged Legionnaires’ law violations, including 30 in the Bronx

industrial cooling towers
The attorney general has accused Verizon of violating various cooling tower laws that were made to prevent the spread of Legionnaires’ disease, as the Highbridge area grapples with a recent outbreak.
Photo courtesy Getty

The 30 alleged instances of Verizon violating Legionnaries’ cooling tower laws in the Bronx took place across seven buildings in 2017-2019 at 117 E. 167th St., 370 E. 150th St., 3001 Kingsbridge Ave., 1106 Hoe Ave., 1775 Grand Concourse, 2411 Tratman Ave. and 3050 Cruger Ave.

Legionnaires’ disease can be spread by poorly monitored or operated building cooling towers, and among alleged violations at Verizon-owned buildings, water samples were not tested for Legionella and other bacteria in a timely fashion, corrective action was not taken in response to positive test results, and cleaning, disinfection and inspection of cooling towers was not done in a timely fashion.

Verizon, however, denies the allegations.

“Verizon is encouraged to resolve this matter,” a spokesperson said in a statement to the Bronx Times. “While we admit no wrongdoing, the settlement avoids protracted litigation and is in the best interest of all involved.”

The city and state laws that the company is accused of breaking were penned following a 2015 Legionnaires’ outbreak in the Bronx that made 120 people sick and killed 12. The laws surrounding cooling tower maintenance and reporting — which can notoriously spread the disease with bacteria growing in them and then spreading through water vapor — were intended to prevent further spread of the disease, a type of pneumonia.

Yet the Bronx has been dealing with another outbreak that began May 3, which has infected 24 people and killed two. The source of the outbreak has come from four cooling towers in the Highbridge neighborhood. The towers have now been remediated, according to the city health department.

Michael Lanza, NYC Department of Health spokesperson, told the Bronx Times that the cooling towers related to the Highbridge investigation are not owned by Verizon, and Morgan Rubin, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, confirmed that the office is not making a determination one way or another about the recent outbreak. The investigation did not look beyond 2019 violations.

The 200 to 800 Legionnaires’ cases recorded in New York state each year — which is believed to be less than the actual number of cases — have often resulted from concentrated outbreaks in New York City in low-income areas, according to the attorney general’s office report. NYC sees an average of 200-500 cases per year, according to the city health department.

“Legionnaires’ disease remains a deadly presence in areas across our state, particularly in low-income communities and communities of color,” James said in a statement. “It is essential that companies such as Verizon are taking the necessary actions to avoid the spread of this preventable and lethal disease. This agreement will protect New Yorkers’ public health and slow the spread of Legionnaires’ disease.”

Verizon is required to create policies and procedures to make sure the company complies with cooling tower laws going forward as part of the agreement.

The company will also pay $118,000 for the violations, which the attorney general’s office will use to address health impacts of air pollution.

“The OAG (Office of the Attorney General) found several causes for the alleged violations, including disorganized accountability, communication and tracking failures, and a lack of central policies and procedures within the company,” according to James’ office.

The investigation into other cooling tower owners in the state for their compliance with laws meant to prevent the spread of Legionnaires’ disease is ongoing.

Reach Aliya Schneider at aschneider@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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