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State of New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 8, 2012

Contact: Lawrence Ragonese (609) 292-2994

TESTS FOR LEGIONELLA BACTERIA IN DEP BUILDING
FINDS NO TRACE IN AIR COOLING SYSTEM

BUILDING DEEMED SAFE AND WILL BE OPEN MONDAY.

(12/P79) TRENTON - Tests conducted this weekend on the air cooling and ventilation system at the Department of Environmental Protection’s 401 East State Street building in Trenton came back negative for signs of legionella bacteria, which had been discovered in a cooling tower atop the building. The cooling tower was “shocked’’ with biocides on Friday to kill the bacteria and continues to be chemically treated to eliminate any potential remnants of legionella.

The building is deemed to be safe and will be open for business as usual on Monday.

“We are absolutely committed to protecting the health and safety of all DEP employees and our visitors,’’ said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin. “We have taken this issue very seriously, and commend the DEP staff, with assistance from the state Department of Treasury and Department of Health, for their efforts this weekend to thoroughly test our systems and deal with this issue. We will continue with a thorough cleansing of the cooling tower and take any steps necessary to ensure that any remnants of the legionella bacteria are eliminated.’’

A pumping system installed on Friday will continue to administer biocide for one week, to be followed by a thorough draining, flushing and cleaning of the entire cooling tower system.  

There have been no reports of illness or symptoms of Legionnaire’s disease, the illness which can develop from infection by a certain strain of the legionella bacteria. The presence of the legionella organism in water and cooling systems is not necessarily hazardous if addressed appropriately, as is being done at the DEP in consultation with the State Department of Health. 

Sampling for the legionella organism was performed by contractors through the collection of water samples from the cooling tower and the incoming water main.

Surface swab sampling was performed within air handler units on all seven floors. Samples were taken at locations on the cooling tower, including fan exhaust blades and honeycomb cooling tower components, as well as surface samples from the fresh air intake duct louver at the roof level of the air handling system. Surface swabs were collected from interior condensate drip pans from the interior air handling units on all floors. Duplicate swabs were collected at all locations.

Only one sample tested positive for legionella. That sample was taken in the outside cooling tower. Water in that tower was shocked with biocides to kill the bacteria.

The DEP will be working with the state Department of Treasury, which oversees all state government buildings, to ensure follow-up testing is performed and future testing is conducted.

The DEP and Treasury learned Friday that routine tests of the cooling system showed the presence of legionella bacteria. The mere presence of the bacteria does not present a health or safety hazard to employees at this time and, in fact, is not uncommon in building cooling systems, according to the state Department of Health.

The state DOH is routinely contacted by health care facilities and other entities serving the public when they have detected the legionella bacteria in their cooling systems. Neither state nor federal protocol calls for the evacuation of public buildings or health care facilities upon the mere finding of legionella organism.

In fact, standard federal and DOH protocol does not recommend evacuation of health care facilities when the mere presence of legionella is confirmed.  Only certain strains of the legionella organism pose a health hazard and create Legionnaire’s disease, a form of pneumonia.

Following normal response protocol, a water treatment contractor was promptly employed by the DEP and Treasury Friday afternoon to "shock'' the water by administering biocide chemicals. A pumping system also was installed to continue to administer the biocides.

Below are FAQs from the Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control.

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Last Updated: July 9, 2012