Update: Seneca Towers residents still can't shower due to Legionnaires' disease

Posted at: 10/15/2012 5:12 PM
Updated at: 10/15/2012 6:02 PM
By: Christine VanTimmeren

For the third straight day, residents who live at the Seneca Towers are not able to shower because of Legionella bacteria.

News10NBC has learned what has been done to treat the water and try to kill the bacteria. Health department officials say within the last couple weeks, a resident at Seneca Towers tested positive for Legionnaires' and had to be hospitalized.

That was actually the second case in Seneca Towers this year and because of that, the health department decided to investigate. Water system treatments were made over the weekend, but it could take a week to get the results.

Residents say the whole situation has been nerve wracking, but they are making do. For the past three days, they’ve either had to take cool sponge baths or go to the local Y to shower. It has been a real inconvenience for senior citizens.

Health department officials say over the weekend, the water system at Seneca Towers was superheated, that means the hot water went from a temperature of 120 degrees to between 130 to 135 degrees. That should kill most or all of the bacteria, but just to be safe, they also hyper-chlorinated the water. Since then, the chlorine has been flushed from the system, but the super hot water still remains for now.

Health department officials say while situations like this are not rare, they do take them very seriously. One resident said that’s she pleased with how this has been handled.
John Ricci, Monroe County Health Department, said, “Anytime you have an older structure with in some cases, miles and miles of water pipes in the building where water can stagnate and linger in some instances we can have this situation.”
Valerie, who lives in Seneca Towers, said, “They're right on top of it, I can’t make any complaints because I mean they took to it immediately. They’re sending maintenance crews throughout the building to each apartment to individually clean the faucets.”

Right now, the health department is waiting on another test to see if the Legionnaires' bacteria are gone. If that test comes back clear, they will either give the residents the all clear or they’ll determine whether to conduct another test just to be safe. But with results taking up to a week to get back, health department officials don’t for see residents being able to take a shower until later this week at the earliest.

Residents can take baths. It’s the steam from a shower that causes the problem. The bacteria can get airborne in the steam and that can get into residents’ systems. The cold water is fine, the bacteria thrives in a warm environment, not cold. Residents are being provided water bottles for that extra reassurance.