Health Scare Panic or Coverup?
Why Didn’t Officials Inform Community About 2 Confirmed Cases of Legionnaire’s Disease
By Michael Horowitz
BRONX, NEW YORK, MARCH 6- Two Co-op City shareholders living in a Section 5 building have come down with a severe form of pneumonia that bacteria in the building’s water system may have caused, Levi Fishman, deputy press secretary for the city’s Health Department confirmed this week.
The two who contracted the disease, both of whom live in Building 27, came down with Legionnaire’s Disease in May 2012 and June 2013, correspondence between the Health Department and the Riverbay Corporation has confirmed.
The Health Department’s suggested protocols for guarding against Legionnaire’s Disease, which can be fatal in as many as 15 percent of cases, calls for taking shower heads and water faucets in apartment apart and disinfecting them with bleach and maintaining specific temperatures in the building’s hot- and cold-water supply.
Management officials are insisting that there is no problem in any of Co-op City’s water systems, and Fishman said, this week, that there is no evidence of any current problem with the water that Co-op City’s shareholders use.
Fishman said, this week, that the suggested protocols for stopping the spread of Legionnaire’s Disease are suggestion only --- that the building’s management and shareholders are not required to follow them.
The News, after learning about possible cases of Legionnaire’s Disease in Co-op City from an informed source who wished to remain unidentified, waited for more than two weeks for Health Department officials to respond to the newspaper’s pointed and meticulously drafted questions.
Correspondence between the Health Department and the Riverbay Corporation, which Herbert Freedman first supplied to the News, confirmed that officials of both Co-op City’s management and the city’s Health Department have known about the potential health risk to shareholders in Building 27, where the two who contracted Legionnaire’s Disease lived, and Buildings 26 and 30, which are connected to the same water system, since at least Dec. 3 of last year.
An estimated 1,400 families use the water system that may be at issue.
However, at this time, Fishman said that the Health Department can’t be sure that the victims of Legionnaire’s Disease got it from bacteria in their building’s water system or from other sources.
The Health Department is concerned about the water system serving Building 27 because the two Co-op City shareholders who contracted Leionnaire’s Disease live in that building.
In response to questions from the News, which Herbert Freedman found out about secondhand, the Co-op City official angrily accused the newspaper of spreading “panic” in the local community.
In response, Christopher Hagedorn, editor and publisher of the News, called Freedman’s charge outrageous, saying, “The people of Co-op City have a right to know what’s going on in their community. They certainly have a right to know about potential health risks. We have an obligation to alert shareholders to potential risks to their health once we confirm that they may exist.”
In an e-mail to the News, Freedman strongly indicated that information about a potential health risk from Legionnaire’s Disease should be withheld.
He stated, “Hate to mess up your lead story this week, but I am hoping you are responsible enough not to attempt to start a panic in coop (Co-op) City.”
In a direct response to Freedman, Hagedorn stressed, “We obviously have more confidence in the ability of the people of Co-op City to process information than Mr. Freedman does. We intend to report this extremely important story in the great traditions of the free press, which our nation’s Founding Fathers guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. We will not be silenced by diatribes or sarcastic comments from Herb Freedman or anyone else.”