An Orange County Health Official has reportedly testified that a cooling tower at Disneyland is the likely source for all 22 in a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in 2017, according to the LA Times.
- Dr. Matthew Zahn, medical director for epidemiology at the Orange County Health Care Agency, has pointed out a cooling tower as the likely source of the outbreak.
- In August 2017, 22 people were diagnosed and hospitalized for Legionnaires–disease a dangerous lung infection.
- Local health officials believe the source of the outbreak can be traced back to a cooling tower on Disneyland property.
- 19 of the 22 hospitalized had visited the park prior to becoming ill. One of the 22 died from the disease.
- Zahn said he couldn’t be 100% sure that the tower was the cause of all 22 illnesses without further testing and noted that county health workers “They did not find an obvious — on their pass through — source” when investigating the outbreak.
- According to the Los Angeles Times, in March, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal OSHA) cited and fined Disney $33,000 for failing to properly clean two cooling tower units.
- While Cal OSHA specializes in worker safety and not general public health concerns, they looked into the disease because 3 cast members became ill from Legionnaires and 2 had to be hospitalized. Cal OSHA’s reports do not explore the causality for the 19 other cases of the disease.
- In November of 2017 the Los Angeles Times reported on the outbreak. Disney said they’d been made aware of increased number of cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Anaheim on October 27th.
- According to reports, Disney and Orange County health officials conducted reviews of the cooling towers at the time of the report and found increased levels of the Legionella bacteria. Orange County ordered the towers shut down and cleaned.
- However, health officials never said the towers were to blame for the outbreak. A Disney spokesperson also noted that there several other towers outside the parks were not tested and 3 of the 22 who became ill had not visited the park, including the person who died.
- As for the cast members, all 3 of them came within 50 to 200 feet of the towers in question.
- Disney conducts quarterly tests of their cooling towers according to recorded documents.
- Legionnaires disease is a harmful bacterial infection of the lungs. Legionella bacteria thrive in damp, moist environments such as the areas of cooling towers where mist is given off. Legionnaires’ is not spread from person to person. Each individual who became sick had to breathe in water droplets containing the bacteria.
What they’re saying:
- Dr. Matthew Zahn, medical director for epidemiology at the Orange County Health Care Agency: “Most likely those cases were related to a common exposure. Cooling tower #4 was the most likely source of exposure.”
- Cal OSHA said in the citation: “The employer did not follow the manufacturer’s cooling tower start-up maintenance and water treatment procedure to control outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease. As a result, two employees suffered serious illness requiring hospitalization of more than 24 hours.”
- Cal-OSHA citation: “The employer failed to ensure equipment in service [was] kept clean, in sanitary condition, inspected and maintained as recommended by the manufacturer, as not to give rise to employee harmful exposure to Legionella pneumophila and other airborne bacteria.”
- Disneyland spokeswoman Suzi Brown (previously): “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 … We have continually cooperated with Cal-OSHA’s various investigations, and fully complied with its reporting requirements with respect to our employees.”
- Dr. Pamela Hymel, chief medical officer for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts: “We conducted a review and learned that two cooling towers had elevated levels of Legionella bacteria. These towers were treated with chemicals that destroy the bacteria and are currently shut down.”