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updated: 10/5/2012 3:18 PM

Batavia schools to disinfect legionella-laden plumbing

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  • Batavia schools Superintendent Jack Barshinger

      Batavia schools Superintendent Jack Barshinger

 
 

The Batavia public schools will disinfect faucets, sinks and showerheads at three schools where high levels of the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease has been found.

On Thursday, the school district closed one restroom each at Hoover-Wood and Alice Gustafson elementary schools, and turned off the water to a girls athletics locker room at Batavia High School. The athletes were allowed Friday and Saturday to change clothes in the locker room.

Superintendent Jack Barshinger said Friday no illnesses have been reported. District 101 officials decided to do the disinfection on the weekend, when students are not present, to minimize students' exposure to the disinfectant, chlorine dioxide.

The district will also flush the buildings' water supply lines.

The test for Legionella bacteria was added to the district's routine environmental health tests this summer, upon the recommendation of an employees' safety study group. The group recommended testing the cooling towers for all air conditioning systems. Cooling towers can provide ideal conditions for the growth of the bacteria, and workers servicing those systems can be exposed to water vapors containing the bacteria. The district decided to test boiler rooms, faucets and showerheads as well, Barshinger said.

"This is a very proactive position," he said.

The district will retest the three schools, possibly in three months, for the slow growing bacteria.

According to the Centers for Disease Control one type of Legionella bacteria can cause pneumonia, particularly in the elderly, smokers and people with compromised immune systems. The bacteria's name is derived from a 1976 outbreak of pneumonia that killed 36 people who attended an American Legion convention in Philadelphia. High levels of the bacteria were found in the cooling towers for the hotel's air conditioning.

In July and August, three people died of pneumonia after inhaling infected water droplets from a decorative fountain in a hotel in downtown Chicago.

The other types of the bacteria can cause skin infections.

The bacteria thrives in stagnant water, growing especially well at temperatures of 68 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit.

The swab tests at the Batavia schools showed high growth around screens in the faucets and showerheads, which tend to stay moist, Barshinger said. Scale and sediment harbor the bacteria and provide nutrients for other organisms that the bacteria eat.

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