WEST ORANGE, NJ — First they were found at town hall. Then they were found at a half-dozen other municipal buildings. Now, less than six weeks after Legionella bacteria was discovered in the water at Redwood Elementary, West Orange officials have found additional samples of the hazardous pathogen at all but three of the district’s schools.
On Wednesday, West Orange Public School District administrators provided an update on testing that’s been taking place at all 12 schools for Legionella bacteria, the organisms that lead to Legionnaire’s Disease, a severe form of pneumonia commonly found in found in potable and non-potable water systems.
Test results for each individual school can be seen here. Read Superintendent Jeff Rutzky’s letter to parents and guardians here. Updated district statements about the testing can be seen here.
The district initially began testing for the bacteria at Redwood Elementary School last month after a parent whose child was attending summer camp there reported that her child was sick with what the doctor said could be Legionnaire’s Disease. The child was ultimately determined not to have the disease, Rutzky said.
However, officials began remediation efforts at the school after test results showed four of 15 samples had “very low levels of Legionella bacteria” on Aug. 14.
On Aug. 30, New Jersey American Water tested sinks and water fountains at Redwood Elementary School for coliform bacteria. The results were satisfactory in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water Act standards, school officials said.
Even though the Redwood Elementary School samples met the standard, OMEGA Environmental was hired to perform a disinfection procedure using a hyper-chlorinated solution on Sept. 10 and 11, officials said.
The procedure included:
- “chlorine is pumped into the hot water heater and remains in the hot water tank for four hours to eliminate any bacteria”
- “chlorine is then pumped through the hot water piping system and remains in the system for fourteen hours to eliminate any bacteria”
- “chlorinated water is drained from the hot water tank and hot water piping system and flushed with fresh water”
- “water samples are drawn and retested after the hyper-chlorination procedure to verify that the water again meets the Safe Drinking Water Act standards”
Officials also took the following steps at Redwood Elementary:
- “installing filters on the water sources that tested positive”
- “replacing faucets in the affected areas”
- “proactively and temporarily covering all water fountains despite the fact that the Legionella bacteria only presents a risk from exposure to airborne droplets and not from drinking affected water”
- “removing, cleaning and sanitizing all aerators (screens) in all rooms”
- “where possible, changes in the plumbing systems will be done to minimize the potential for future bacterial growth”
West Orange school officials then began the process of testing the district’s other facilities for Legionella, including all 12 schools, the Central Office and the Bus Depot.
Samples for Legionella bacteria were positive in the Administration Building and all schools except Liberty Middle School, Betty Maddalena Early Learning Center, and Kelly Elementary School, officials announced Wednesday.
“All affected schools will undergo the same remediation as Redwood Elementary School by Omega Environmental, followed by retesting by Garden State Environmental,” school administrators said. “Water bottles should be available at all schools until testing and remediation is completed.”
To complete the process, the remediation is being carried out on weekends, administrators said.
The remediation schedule follows below:
- Mt. Pleasant had the chlorination process completed on Sept. 19 and was retested for the Legionella bacteria on Sept. 24.
- St. Cloud had the chlorination process completed on Sept. 22 and will be retested on Sept. 27.
- Hazel will have the chlorination process completed on Sept. 28 and 29. Retesting will be done approximately four days after the chlorination process.
- Gregory, Washington and the Administration Building will have the chlorination process completed on Oct. 5 and 6, Oct. 12 and 13 or Oct. 19 and 20. Retesting will be done approximately four days after the chlorination process.
- Edison and Roosevelt will have the chlorination process completed on Oct. 26 or 27 or Nov. 2 and 3. Retesting will be done approximately four days after the chlorination process.
- West Orange High School will be completed on Nov. 8 to 11. Retesting will be done approximately four days after the chlorination process.
“It is important to note that there are no confirmed cases of Legionella in West Orange,” Superintendent Rutzky said Wednesday. “We will continue to be diligent in our approach to remediate the water sources that tested positive for Legionella bacteria and proactive in completing the process as quickly as possible.”
School district administrators have been coordinating their responses with workers at the town Health Department, who have been conducting their own Legionella testing and remediation at several buildings, including Town Hall, Lafayette Park, O’Connor Park, Fire Headquarters, Firehouse No. 2, Firehouse No. 4 and Police Headquarters.
West Orange Director of Health Theresa DeNova previously provided the following information about Legionnaire’s Disease:
“It is not contagious, person to person… it is not airborne… it cannot be contracted by drinking or touching water… and the way it is contracted is by inhaling contaminated water mist.”
New Jersey American Water previously released the following statement about the situation in West Orange:
“Providing safe water is New Jersey American Water’s number one priority and a responsibility we share with all our customers. Although the drinking water we deliver is treated and meets all federal and state water quality standards and requirements, the quality of that water can change once it leaves our pipes and enters domestic plumbing systems. When we became aware of the issues the Township of West Orange experienced with Legionella in the plumbing infrastructure of its Municipal Township Building, we began proactively working with Mayor Parisi, his staff, health officials and town consultants to provide expert guidance and assistance as the town works to remedy this situation. We are committed to helping the Township resolve this issue as they work to disinfect and upgrade their building systems to ensure a healthy and safe work environment for their employees.”