City Council To Debate Bill To Register, Regulate NYC Cooling Towers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York City lawmakers will start debating a bill requiring all cooling towers to be registered and routinely tested after the deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the South Bronx.

The death toll from the disease is now up to 12 with 115 reported cases.

Scientists are zeroing in on the location that started the outbreak, believed to be one of five cooling towers in the South Bronx. Cooling towers in 18 buildings have tested positive for the legionella bacteria, officials said.

“Everything that we know today points to one or more of those five original sites as the problem location,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday.

As WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported, when told that the owner of the Opera House Hotel is upset that reports are pointing to his hotel’s cooling tower as the possible source, de Blasio said “I’m sorry he’s upset but the bottom line is from what we know, we know that this site tested positive. No one’s contesting that. From everything we know, this was one of the major contributing sites.”

But the mayor underlined they won’t know for sure exactly what happened until test results are returned from state labs.

While the state has moved ahead with testing on its own, city leaders are taking the unprecedented step with legislation that would require the regular inspection of cooling towers.

“We are dealing with a new set of realities that we’ve never encountered before in this city,” said de Blasio.

The regulation would be the first of its kind in the country.

If passed, the law would mean all cooling towers would have to be registered with the city and regular testing and cleaning would be required. Building owners would also need to have cooling towers inspected quarterly and get an annual certification.

Meanwhile, the city and state said Tuesday that they will create joint emergency regulations to combat Legionnaires’. In a joint statement, Mayor de Blasio, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said the joint regulations are aimed at projecting cooperation.

“Protecting the public health is our number one priority,” Cuomo said in the news release. “I want the people of New York to know that we are doing everything necessary to tackle this outbreak and stop it from happening again. This unified approach will help in this effort, and I want to thank the City for working hand-in-hand on these emergency regulations to prevent the occurrence of Legionnaires’ disease in the future.”

The response to the outbreak to this point has been filled with apparent turf battles between Cuomo and de Blasio’s administrations.

Officials said that all but one of the 12 fatalities was more than 40 years old and all of them had underlying health problems.

While touring the Douglass Leon Senior Center in the South Bronx Tuesday, the mayor told the seniors to see a doctor immediately if they experience any flu-like symptoms.

“We all know that Legionnaires’ tends to affect older people more,” he said.

De Blasio said seniors can seek treatment for free in the emergency room at Lincoln Hospital.

Because the disease has a 10-day incubation period there can be a lag in reporting cases, but de Blasio said Monday that city health officials believe there hasn’t been a new diagnosis since Aug. 3.

Meanwhile, three cases of Legionnaires’ have been diagnosed in Rockland County since July 1.

State officials say the latest case was reported in Orangeburg Monday night.

One of the cases was linked to the outbreak in the Bronx. But officials are stressing there is nothing like the South Bronx outbreak going on in Rockland, CBS2’s Lou Young reported.

“We’re really not part of the outbreak in the city, except we have one person who went to the city,” said Rockland Health Commissioner Patricia Schnabel-Ruppert.

On Friday, a worker at Chromalloy, a gas turbine company in Orangeburg, was diagnosed with the disease.

“So far, these are all sporadic cases in the county,” Rockland County spokesman Scott Salado told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams. “There are no clusters. Chromalloy was not a cluster, it was one sporadic case. The other case is related to the Bronx, the third, no known contact source.”

Chromalloy voluntarily cleaned its cooling system as a precaution, but was not identified as a source of the infection.

To stay ahead of any problems, Rockland has sent out notices encouraging all businesses to at least test their systems if they have them.

Though it is not a mandate by the county, companies who specialize in cleaning cooling towers are fielding a flood of calls, Young reported.

“We’re deploying 12 teams around the clock and we’re trying to catch up,” said Greg Frazier, with Clean Water Technologies.

Dr. Donald Chen, an epidemiologist at Westchester Medical Center said the individual cases in Rockland happen all the time; it’s the cluster that is the real concern.

“We’re well aware of what’s happening in the Bronx. We’re keeping an eye on it. We haven’t seen anything different here,” Dr. Chen said.

The disease is a form of pneumonia that’s caused by breathing in mist contaminated with the Legionella bacteria. It cannot be spread through person to person contact, health officials said.

The disease is easily diagnosed and can be treated with antibiotics but poses a serious risk to anyone with an underlying medical condition.

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease include headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, confusion and diarrhea. Symptoms appear two to 10 days after exposure to Legionella bacteria.

Tuesday night, the council will hold a town hall meeting to discuss the outbreak, CBS2’s Janelle Burrell reported. The town hall meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Concourse Village Community Center in the Bronx.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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