Legionalla bacteria – a waterborne pathogen that can cause a type of pneumonia known as Legionnaires’ disease – is present in the water systems at the Illinois state capitol complex in Springfield.
A memo from Deputy Gov. Trey Childress and Secretary of State Physical Services Director Mike Wojcik went out to employees just before 7 p.m. Monday night.
It reads: “Out of an abundance of caution and because of heightened awareness and continued misconceptions about Legionnaires’ disease, we want to make you aware of preliminary test results that indicate the possible presence of Legionella bacteria in the Capitol Complex hot water system. This is the bacteria that can cause Legionnaires’ disease. We are not aware of any reports of Legionnaires’ disease among Springfield state employees or the general public.”
Only a preliminary test has been conducted, which does not indicate whether the bacteria are alive. Only cells that are alive cause a health risk, said Ian Cull, owner of the indoor environmental consulting company Indoor Sciences.
“If water treatment is doing it’s (sic) job, you may have dead cells in the system,” Cull told Chicago Tonight via email.
The memo advises employees to avoid using showers or “removing aerators” but that “we have been advised by experts that the transmission of this bacteria in normal, day-to-day office operations is unlikely” given that Legionnaires’ disease is not spread from person to person or by drinking water, but rather by inhaling vapors from a contaminated water source.
Additional testing at the capitol complex is underway. According to the memo from Childress and Wojcik, it could take 14 days to determine whether the cells are living.
“The gold standard is to collect a sample and have it put on a petri dish and see how many colonies grow after 10 days. This ‘culturable sampling’ only counts viable cells,” Cull said.
The news comes as Gov. Bruce Rauner has come under fire for his administration’s handling of outbreaks of Legionnaire’s disease that since 2015 have killed 13 residents of a state veterans home in Quincy.
The Secretary of State’s office ordered a test on the water supply after a pipe burst Jan. 10 at the Armory building, which is across the street from the domed statehouse.
Secretary of State spokesman Henry Haupt says Reliable Environmental Solutions Inc. of Springfield ordered a testing kit Jan. 12; the FedEx shipment was delayed due to weather, and arrived Jan. 17. Reliable Environmental Solutions Inc. began conducting tests that day. The preliminary results came back Jan. 19, Haupt said.
Individuals from the Secretary of State’s office met with “industry experts” over the weekend and held additional meetings with the those experts as well as the state public health department, the Capital Development Board and the capitol architect’s office on Monday, before the memo went out in the evening.
“We wanted to be aggressive, proactive, out in front and communicate,” Haupt said.
The capitol complex is comprised of 14 buildings, including the statehouse, the Secretary of State Driver’s Facilities, the Illinois State Archives, and other several buildings in downtown Springfield that house the offices for state legislators and employees:
• Illinois Capitol
• Michael J. Howlett Building
• Illinois State Library
• Illinois State Archives
• William G. Stratton Building
• Illinois State Museum
• Willard Ice Building
• Index Building
• Illinois Attorney General Office
• Appellate Court Building
• Central Management Services Computer Center
• Secretary of State Warehouse
• Secretary of State Driver’s Facilities
• Secretary of State Power Plant
“I think if you tested every building, if you dug deep enough, you could find at least one cell [of Legionella bacteria] in every building everywhere. It’s that cosmopolitan,” Cull recently told Chicago Tonight. “The real risk, though, is not when you just have one little cell floating in a pipe somewhere in a building.”
Below, the full memo.
TO: All Capitol Complex State Employees
FROM: Mike Wojcik, Director of Physical Services, Secretary of State Trey Childress, Deputy Governor & Chief Operating Officer
SUBJECT: Water Testing for Legionella Bacteria
DATE: January 22, 2018
Out of an abundance of caution and because of heightened awareness and continued misconceptions about Legionnaires’ disease, we want to make you aware of preliminary test results that indicate the possible presence of Legionella bacteria in the Capitol Complex hot water system. This is the bacteria that can cause Legionnaires’ disease. We are not aware of any reports of Legionnaires’ disease among Springfield state employees or the general public.
More testing is required and is currently underway. Results should be available in approximately 14 days. In the meantime, we have been advised by experts that the transmission of this bacteria in normal, day-to-day office operations is unlikely.
Legionnaires’ disease is typically contracted by inhaling mist or vapor from a water source contaminated with the bacteria. The disease is not contracted by drinking water and is not spread person-to-person. Nonetheless, steps are being taken by the Secretary of State’s Physical Services Department, including advising against the use of the few showers and removing aerators in the Capitol Complex as necessary.
The health and safety of state employees and visitors is our top priority. We will pass along relevant updates as they become available.
For more information regarding Legionella bacteria, please visit the Illinois Department of Public Health’s website.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky
Jan. 10: In the face of mounting criticism over his handling of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at a veterans home, Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday promised additional upgrades to the facility.
Jan. 10: As lawmakers spar over a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at a veterans home in Quincy, we take a closer look at how the illness spreads and is treated.
Jan. 9: Illinois Public Health Director Nirav Shah told lawmakers Tuesday that he’s “proud” of the government’s response to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at a state veterans home in Quincy. But critics say it was a delayed reaction that put veterans at risk.