Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Legionnaire's Bacteria Found in Drinking Water at Nine Reopened Schools

Health + Wellness
Legionnaire's Bacteria Found in Drinking Water at Nine Reopened Schools
Nine schools in Ohio and Pennsylvania have found legionella bacteria in their drinking water. FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP via Getty Images

In addition to taking precautions against the novel coronavirus, schools across the country find themselves needing to worry about a new scourge: legionella bacteria in their drinking water, according to The New York Times.

Recently, nine schools in Ohio and Pennsylvania found the harmful bacteria in their water. In Fox Chapel, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh, four out of the town's six schools tested positive for the bacteria. Because the schools were unused for so long, nearly six months, the water just sat in the pipes and did not have a chance to move. That created a condition for the bacteria to thrive, according to WPXI News in Pittsburgh.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people get sick when they inhale mist that has the bacteria or they ingest water with the bacteria in it. It can cause severe pneumonia or lung infection, which is worrying when the nation is already grappling with COVID-19, an infectious disease that leads to severe pneumonia.

Similarly, schools outside of Dayton, Ohio found the bacteria in their water last week. In all of those cases, the outbreak was noticed in locations that were far from classrooms or drinking fountains, such as one faucet in a seldom used bathroom, according to Dayton Daily News.

"We would have capability to wash hands, we would provide drinking water, we have toilets that are working, and we have the ability to serve lunch," said superintendent Rob O'Leary, defending the district's decision to proceed with in-person instruction and to keep the schools open, as Dayton 24/7 reported.

O'Leary added that the school district ran disinfectant through all the school's water lines and cleaned the aerators on all of its faucets.

The Milton-Union school district, also in Ohio, received a federal grant to test its water over the summer. It found the bacteria in a drinking fountain and in two faucets on only the cold-water side, according to WHIO News in Ohio.

"Ice machines we tested it all," said Tim Swartztrauber, West Milton Water Supervisor and Chief Inspector to WHIO. "Luckily we did because we did find legionella. We tested every drinking fountain and we got it in a drinking fountain. Without that this probably would have been missed."

Swartztrauber added that they ran chlorine through the system to disinfect it and then flushed out the chlorine to make the water safe again.

Andrew Whelton, an associate professor of civil, environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University in Indiana, was involved in the study at the Milton-Union schools and said it would not have been possible without the federal grant. That leaves a question of how many schools across the country are not testing their water because they don't have the funds to do it, according to The New York Times.

"If somebody contracts legionella and legionnaires disease the exposure can be fatal," Whelton said to WHIO. "So it is serious."

It's highly unusual for schools to go for such an extended time without use. Even during the summer months, there's often summer school, sports practice, and custodial work being done.

"Schools generally do not have a water management plan," Whelton said to the New York Times. "There's a myth that most do. They don't in my experience."

Whelton told The New York Times that the bacteria would likely show up with greater prevalence if schools actually conducted tests.

"If parents haven't heard from their schools about whether or not testing is being conducted, then they should start asking questions," he said.

A couple react as they go through their destroyed mobile home following Hurricane Laura in Lake Charles, Louisiana, on August 27, 2020. ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP / Getty Images

By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

In this autumn of horrific fires and deadly floods, it's easy to overlook one bit of promising news on the climate front: Some major U.S. media coverage of the crisis is finally getting better.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Since April 2020, farmer support for Trump has fallen from 89 percent to 71 percent, according to an August 2020 survey by DTN/The Progressive Farmer. Steve Smith / Getty Imagess

By Leanna First-Arai

In a push to capture the rural vote, 62 percent of which went to Trump in 2016, both the Trump and Biden campaigns are ramping up efforts to appeal to farmers and ranchers.

Read More Show Less


An electric car at an eVgo charging station in a parking lot in Dublin, California on June 20, 2018. Smith Collection / Gado / Getty Images

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Wednesday that would ban the sale of new cars in California that run only on gasoline by the year 2035. The bid to reduce emissions and combat the climate crisis would make California the first state to ban the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines, according to POLITICO.

Read More Show Less

A "trash tsunami" has washed ashore on the beaches of Honduras, endangering both wildlife and the local economy.

Read More Show Less
Long-finned pilot whales are seen during a 1998 stranding in Marion Bay in Tasmania, Australia. Auscape / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

More long-finned pilot whales were found stranded today on beaches in Tasmania, Australia. About 500 whales have become stranded, including at least 380 that have died, the AP reported. It is the largest mass stranding in Australia's recorded history.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch