School division accelerates plan to clean cooling towers

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Chesterfield County Public Schools is working with three independent contractors to accelerate a schedule to clean and provide preventative maintenance to water cooling towers found outside on school grounds, in light of Legionella bacteria recently found in cooling towers at Falling Creek Middle, Midlothian Middle and Greenfield Elementary. 

The accelerated plan is out of an abundance of caution, as this work was not suggested or requested by the Chesterfield Health District or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those two entities are leading a local investigation seeking to determine the source of 11 cases of Legionnaires’ disease identified in Chesterfield County this summer. (The Health District has informed the school division that there is nothing that positively links the towers at Falling Creek Middle, Midlothian Middle or Greenfield Elementary with the confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease at this time.)

The school division has two contractors in place and has obtained a third contractor with the assistance of the county government. The additional cleaning is expected to start Tuesday, with all work by all contractors scheduled for completion by Aug. 28.

Since learning of the initial positive field test at Greenfield Elementary and the subsequent positive lab tests at Falling Creek and Midlothian middle schools (field tests were reported to the school division as negative), the school division has not only followed but exceeded guidance provided by local, state and national health and risk management experts. 

Upon notification of positive tests, the school division proactively closed the three sites immediately. This was not required, and has not been done by any other non-governmental entity identified locally as having a positive Legionella test result. Extensive cleaning and remediation already has occurred at Greenfield Elementary and is underway at Falling Creek Middle and Midlothian Middle. Each of the three buildings is expected to reopen to the public early next week.

About Legionella bacteria (provided in an Aug. 8 Virginia Department of Health news release)

Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment and are commonly identified in building water systems and devices that are not adequately maintained.  

While cases in the Chesterfield County area have increased, it is important to remember that most people exposed to Legionella do not develop Legionnaires’ disease. Those over the age of 50, people who smoke, and people with weakened immune systems, chronic lung disease, or other chronic health conditions are at increased risk for developing disease. Legionnaires’ disease is treatable with antibiotics.

“The risk to residents or visitors to Chesterfield County remains small,” said Dr. Alexander Samuel, Chesterfield Health District Director. “The health department continues to make every effort to identify cases of Legionnaires’ disease and will continue to work with facilities to remediate any potential source of exposure.” 

More information on Legionnaires’ disease can be found at http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/epidemiology-fact-sheets/legionellosis/. 


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