Chesterfield schools notified of issues with HVAC units before Legionella bacteria found

Chesterfield County

CHESTERFIELD, Va. (WRIC) — Officials with Chesterfield County Public Schools were made aware of concerns regarding the county’s HVAC systems multiple times since last year, service reports from a Roanoke-based contractor show. This development comes after the county announced that Legionella bacteria was detected at cooling towers at three Chesterfield schools and confirmed its 11th case of Legionnaires’ disease.

Legionnaires’ disease, which is caused by the Legionella bacteria that naturally live in lakes in streams, is a type of pneumonia, according to the Chesterfield Health District (CHD). The bacteria is a concern when it’s aerosolized into small droplets into private water systems — like cooling towers, hot tubs and fountains 

Service reports from Water Chemistry, Inc. (WCI), the contractor in charge of inspecting the HVAC units for the county, recommended testing school’s cooling tower systems for Legionella bacteria in January 2019. The eight documents, which go back to June 2018, were first reported by the Chesterfield Observer.

The first WCI report comes from 2018, specifically June 12, 18-20, and is the only service report that does not recommend testing for Legionella.

“Recommend all tower systems utilize degas dosing equipment to improve operation and minimize biological activity,” WCI says in its 2018 report to Chesterfield County Public Schools.

RELATED: Chesterfield elementary school closed as health officials investigate presence of Legionella bacteria

Earlier this month, Chesterfield Schools Superintendent Mervin Daugherty claimed the district was ahead of the game. 8News spoke with School Board Chairman Rob Thompson on Thursday about the county’s response to the service reports that were released.

“Well, I think that you gotta look at the whole big picture,” Thompson said when asked why the recommendations from WCI were ignored.

Thompson told 8News the county had to divert money elsewhere and he isn’t sure why Legionella testing wasn’t done.

“I’m still not 100 percent why we didn’t,” he explained, “other than, it wasn’t done. It got lost in the spear, we will take responsibility.”

Thompson said that safety is the board’s main priority. He said that all 33 schools and 54 cooling towers at Chesterfield schools will be cleaned by Friday afternoon and that testing the water at schools will take place every single week instead of every month.

“We are upset that this has happened and we are putting preventative measures in place so it never happens again,” Thompson said.

When the first cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Chesterfield were announced, the head of the CHD warned locals not to be too alarmed.

“The risk to residents or visitors to Chesterfield County is very small,” said Chesterfield Health District Director, Dr. Alexander Samuel, in July. “Out of an abundance of caution, the health district recommends that individuals who become ill with pneumonia-like or respiratory symptoms, such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches and headache promptly seek medical care.”

You can find more information about Legionnaires’ disease here.

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