Dr. Matthew Zahn, an Orange County health official, has testified in front of a California appeals board that a Disneyland cooling tower was to blame for the Legionnaires’ outbreak that left one dead and 21 sick last year. These cooling towers are air conditioning units that spread a fine mist over park guests that keep them cool while they wait in queues or in high traffic areas of the resort. Zahn said one of the towers was likely loaded with the bacteria that causes the virus.
“Most likely those cases were related to a common exposure. Cooling tower #4 was the most likely source of exposure,” Zahn said, the LA Times reported.
Two people who fell ill with the severe form of pneumonia were in a nearby nursing home, but Dr. Matthew Zahn testified that the virus can travel two to four miles if it hits the water system. He further said that once the cooling tower in question was cleaned, the outbreak stopped. The virus spreads quickly and can be deadly in some cases. It causes severe respiratory symptoms, as well as fever, chest pains, muscle aches, and vomiting.
In March, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration brought forth a citation and fine for $33,000, claiming that Disney did nothing to properly clean the towers, People Magazine reported. With no evidence to back the claim, Disney appealed the fine.
“We strongly object to Cal-OSHA’s allegation that our cooling towers caused any illness since the source of the outbreak has never been scientifically determined,” Disneyland spokesperson Suzi Brown said in a statement, as reported by People. The hearing on appeal will continue today and is expected to be ruled on in the next 60 days.
According to the LA Times, the outbreak is the cause of another lawsuit brought against the theme park. Last week, a young girl who fell ill with the virus brought suit against Disneyland. She developed a severe cough after celebrating her mother’s birthday at the park.
Without additional testing to the tower, however, there is no way to tell where, exactly, the virus began — and that workers doing a sweep of the towers didn’t find any evidence of the bacteria.
“They did not find an obvious — on their pass through — source,” Zahn added.
A similar outbreak in New York is under investigation. An apartment complex in Washington Heights has left one dead and 27 sick, the New York Post reported. The cooling towers in that instance were under testing as well.