New York Legionnaires’ Disease Crisis: Cuomo Will Use Emergency Powers As Death Toll Reaches 12

The Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in New York City has killed 12 people as of Wednesday. In a new development, an inmate at Riker’s Island has come down with the deadly Legionnaire’s pneumonia. Recent cases in nearby Rockland County are a troubling sign that the epidemic is a concern for the entire state of New York.

New York’s Governor and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced joint emergency regulations Tuesday which will call for a statewide registry of cooling towers, along with maintenance rules and steep penalties for non-compliance.

The announcement on the New York Governor’s official site emphasized that once the legislation is passed by the New York City Council, Cuomo will use his emergency powers to make the new Legionnaires’ disease law take effect throughout New York State.

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s statement highlighted the uniqueness of the joint action.

“An unprecedented event like this outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease in the South Bronx requires an unprecedented response. This legislative action will be the first of its kind for a major American city, as well as first set of regulations by any state in the union, and it will establish new registration, cleaning and monitoring standards for cooling towers in the fight against Legionnaires’ Disease.”

Legionnaire’s disease, a strain of pneumonia, is caused by a bacterium that thrives in warm, wet environments. People can contract it when they breathe in tiny water droplets that contain the Legionella pneumophila bacteria. In previous outbreaks, as well as this one, the cooling towers atop buildings have been traced to be the source of the illness. Showers and hot tubs have been implicated, too.

Incidence of the disease has increased rapidly in the South Bronx over the last few weeks. A slowdown in the appearance of new Legionnaire’s cases in the last few days gave authorities encouragement that the problem was on the wane, according to NBC News New York.

However, in recent days, the Legionnaires’ bacterium has been found in several more buildings. The state and city governments are now hurrying to pass new regulations that will get cooling towers inspected more often and impose serious penalties on building owners who don’t keep towers cleaned and maintained.

New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, spoke at a news conference.

“People are getting sick, people are dying. Building owners who are not complying, I believe, will face legal consequences and legal liability. To the building owners… this is the height of irresponsibility for a building owner that has a cooling tower to have not checked the cooling tower by now, or treated the cooling tower by now.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that, in the South Bronx alone, buildings that have tested positive for the Legionnaire’s bacteria include a high school, a post office, two courthouses, and an intake center for the Department of Homeless Services.

Public health officials across the country will be interested in the effectiveness of New York’s new anti-Legionnaires’ measures. If you don’t live in New York State, it could be that your state has very weak laws, or no regulations at all, that mandate the cleaning and inspection of cooling towers. The risk of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak similar to New York’s current crisis could be great where you live.

[Image Credit CDC, James Gathany / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain]