It’s time for NYC to look at its water system to prevent Legionnaires’ Disease

New York, NY/June 3, 2022 – The Alliance is saddened to hear that more lives are being lost and have become sickened by legionella bacteria in the NYC drinking water system. 

The recent outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease cases in New York is another reminder that the City’s very narrow law is not working. Instead, the Alliance to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease is calling for NYC to protect New York residents by focusing on its water systems as a whole. 

There have been 24 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ Disease in the Bronx with eight people hospitalized and 2 deaths. To date, the New York City Health Department is only investigating one type of equipment using water while giving the public false assurances that their drinking water is safe.

“Legionella bacteria lives in organisms and biofilms in public water systems and because water travels from its source through public distribution systems to homes and buildings, treating only part of the system will not solve the problem – not even close,” said APLD Board Member and Director of Integrated Resource Management Bob Bowcock. “We need to focus on a comprehensive approach that will allow us to address the root cause that drive not only outbreaks but also the individual, sporadic cases which comprise 96% of all Legionnaires’ diagnoses.”

Bowcock said what is needed is a recognition that naturally occurring legionella bacteria must be effectively removed during the water treatment process including filtration and must be carefully controlled with disinfectants throughout its distribution to ensure the delivery of legionella-free water to residents in order to protect public health.

“Until our health officials properly treat and manage the incoming water, we will continue to see cases of Legionnaires’ disease increase,” stated Environmental Activist Erin Brockovich. “We must evolve beyond narrowly focused policies that have done nothing to bring down rates and begin to adopt comprehensive responses including investigations into the public water system that account for source water changes, water main breaks, service interruptions, construction, heavy rainfall, and disinfectant levels – all of which can lead to an increased presence of this bacteria entering our homes and places of work.”

New York leads the nation in Legionnaires’ Disease cases with well over 1,000 cases per year. In 2018, two years after NYC’s law took effect, there were 1,431 cases reported and of those, 1,374 cases were individual, sporadic cases not related to any outbreak.

“The grim reality is that the vast majority of Legionnaires’ Disease cases in New York and across the country are individual, sporadic cases and unfortunately these cases do not get any media attention,” Brockovich said. “If we want to get serious about protecting the people most vulnerable and susceptible to Legionnaires’ Disease, we need to take a more comprehensive approach to the problem. It is time to treat the individual, sporadic cases, which are the vast majority of Legionnaires’ Disease cases, with the same kind of intensity and focus afforded outbreaks.”

“New York must also investigate Legionnaires’ cases thoroughly which includes testing the water in the homes and other places individuals diagnosed with LD have frequented, along with locations upstream where the biofilm or other Legionella niduses likely reside” said Dr. Hung Cheung, APLD Board member and Head of Cogency Environmental. “Only after comprehensive investigations can drinking water and other sources be ruled out as exposure sources and determined safe. Otherwise, you give the public a false sense of security during an evolving situation like this.”

The Alliance to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease is a non-profit coalition of health advocates, health providers, building engineers, scientists, water treatment experts and manufacturers. APLD works to educate residents, building owners, policy makers, media representatives, water system managers and professionals, and government officials about the facts surrounding water quality, effective strategies for addressing the root causes of Legionnaires,’ and better protecting public health. APLD’s experts stand ready to assist NYC in ensuring that the proper source is identified and to put measures and processes in place to effectively prevent Legionnaires’ disease through proper management and monitoring of the water system as a whole.