This latest investigation into the water system at the Parker Towers apartment complex in Forest Hills, Queens is yet another example that the City’s narrowly focused and misguided regulations are failing to prevent New Yorkers from contracting Legionnaires’ disease (LD). This is the fourth instance since August 1, 2017, where residents in apartment buildings in Flushing, Rego Park, Lindenwood and now Forest Hills have been advised by the City’s Health Department to take precautions when using water in their homes. The rate of new LD cases is unacceptable and additional lines of prevention must be considered.
There have been 302 cases of Legionnaires’ already this year, a 100% percent increase in the amount of cases when compared to the same time period in 2016. In fact, by this same time in 2015–a year that prompted our elected officials to take immediate action–300 New Yorkers had been infected with LD, including the South Bronx outbreak which infected more than 130 and the Morris Park outbreak that infected another 13. The eight cases in Lenox Hill earlier this summer remains the only major outbreak (a cluster of two or more individuals) in 2017; but yet, we have already surpassed the number of cases at this point in 2015—a year that has been regarded as one of the worst years for LD cases in recent New York City history.
The facts remain that LD is a waterborne illness, 96 percent of cases are single and sporadic in nature and New York City’s regulations are doing nothing to address this reality. People in New York City are just as at-risk today as they were more than two years ago before ineffective regulations were put in place.
There is no more important issue than ensuring the safety of our water supply. It is time to stop kicking the can down the road and pursue real solutions so people, particularly those with compromised immune systems, can stop needlessly worrying if the water coming out of their showers and faucets contains a potentially deadly bacteria. Let’s start working together to develop policies, including consideration of a minimum chlorine residual level throughout the water distribution system, and encourage investments that will provide clean, safe water to our buildings and homes.