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State, County Health Officials: “no conclusive link” between bacteria found in water towers and Legionnaires outbreaks

Posted at 11:47 PM, Oct 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-08 00:40:26-04

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Speaking before members of the Chesterfield County School Board, state and county health officials reassured board leaders that schools were safe following multiple outbreaks of Legionella bacteria in cooling towers throughout the school system.

This summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) found many of the school cooling towers were dirty and a handful had levels of the legionella bacteria.

Five Chesterfield County schools have tested positive for the strain for Legionella bacteria that can cause Legionnaire’s disease. Those schools include Matoaca High School, L.C. Bird High School, Greenfield Elementary, Midlothian Middle School and Falling Creek Middle. Two other schools tested positive for LP2 bacteria, a “less severe” strain of Legionella bacteria.

That was after VDH noticed an uptick in the number of Legionnaires cases in the county, which is caused by Legionella bacteria.

But on Monday, health officials said that there was "no conclusive link" between the outbreak of Legionnaires disease and the outbreaks of Legionella bacteria in several towers.

"One significant finding is that we could not identify the source of the cluster based on molecular testing," said Alexander Samuel, M.D. of the Chesterfield County Health Department.

Earlier in the afternoon, Chesterfield County Schools officials also confirmed to school board members that all water systems had been cleaned and tested negative for legionella bacteria.

But some parents and a handful of School Board members voiced concern over the lack of transparency during the investigation, including why tests results of other facilities, including Johnston Willis hospital, were not released.

"Am I getting the whole story or am I just getting one piece of the investigation?" School Board Member Robert Thompson asked.

Other school board members like Carrie Coyner defended the Health Department, pointing out,  "We wouldn't be here tonight had our cooling towers been clean."