Fear Spreading Among Co-op City Residents Over Legionnaires Outbreak
By Michael Horowitz
BRONX, NEW YORK, JANUARY 14- A Co-op City couple recounted how their son almost died from Legionnaires’ Disease in early-December.
The victim’s father, who wished to remain unidentified in spoke out about the travails of his son, who is in his 20s, at the town-hall meeting that was held in the auditorium of the Dreiser Loop Community Center.
After the meeting, the victims’ parents elaborated on what their son has been going through in an interview with Co-op City’s only independent community newspaper.
“My son, starting on December 4, spent nine days in the Intensive Care Unit of Jacobi Hospital,” the still-sick man’s mother noted. “I can’t say enough good things about the care he got at Jacobi Hospital, which saved his life. My son still has slurred speech, but my husband and I are confident that he will make a full recovery. We are confident because of our faith in God.”
The sick man’s father stressed, “My son’s whole body, in essence, shut down as a result of Legionnaires’ Disease. He does smoke, but he is certainly not an older person. He was in excellent health before he got sick on December 4, and he certainly is in no condition to go back to work, even at this point.”
The sick man’s mother noted, “My son played just about every conceivable sport when he was growing up, including football, baseball and basketball. He was an exceptional health before he got sick and his whole system shut down. His condition was diagnosed early on, but he is still not close to being his old self.”
Speaking to a capacity crowd of concerned shareholders at the Dreiser Loop Community Center, a spokeswoman for the city’s Health Department said, Tuesday, that two-thirds of 12 recent cases of Legionnaires’ Disease have been reported in Co-op City.
Dr. Sharon Balter, a leading epidemiologist for the Health Department, spoke out after preliminary tests showed that the power plant’s cooling tower, which supplies air-conditioning and heating to shareholders, was contaminated with the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ Disease. Results from more conclusive tests are expected within 10 days.
The cooling tower, which has been shut down pending its cleaning and disinfection by Co-op City’s management, is separate and apart from the systems that carry water, as well as hot water, to the community’s shareholders.
Continuing tests by personnel associated with the Riverbay Corporation and the Health Department are in the offing in an effort to safeguard the health of those who live and work in the local community.
Legionnaires’ Disease can be spread through mists from water sources, such as showerheads, water faucets, or convectors. However, Dr. Balter noted that the disease, which is not spread through person-to-person contact. is usually treatable with the same antibiotics that are used to treat less serious forms of pneumonia, the flu, and an assortment of bacteria that cause severe sore throats.
However, many among the crowd of 600 were extremely uneasy, especially after the father of a victim, who lives at 100 Darrow Place spoke about how his son, who is in his 20s, almost died from Legionnaires’ Disease and continues to have impaired speech more than a month after first contracting the disease.
Dr. Balter, for her part, said that there is no clear-cut way of knowing who will get the disease and who will not, but that there are a number of risk factors. The elderly, smokers, and those with compromised immune systems are more likely to get the disease, the epidemiologist noted.
Riverbay president Cleve Taylor said, this week, that the price tag associated with the cleanup necessitated by eight recent cases of Legionnaires’ Disease here will be at least $1 million.
The major part of the cost is associated with the shutdown of the power plant’s cooling tower, which is used to supply heating and air-conditioning to the community.
With the shutdown of this tower, Co-op City will be forced to get its heat through Con Edison. The additional cost for this temporary changeover is $770,000 for a two-week period.
Also, the problem with the cooling tower, which the Health Department has identified in preliminary tests, is going to necessitate increased testing at the Riverbay Corporation’s expense.
One aspect of the increased costs is the hiring of an environmental consultant, with a specialization in Legionnaires’ Disease, to assess what’s been happening in the local community.
It appears, at this point, that a lack of preventive maintenance on the part of the Riverbay Corporation’s management, which Marion Scott Real Estate, Inc., controlled for 15 years, could have contributed to the problems and added costs that Co-op City’s management now faces.
Critics of the Scott firm have charged, in recent years, that Freedman and his cohorts neglected preventive maintenance in the community in an effort to keep costs down and carrying charges low.
Keeping carrying charges at low levels, for years, had been a centerpiece of the Scott firm’s strategy to maintain control of Co-op City’s management.