‘There may be schools that we don’t know about yet’: Chesterfield supervisor says 6th school tests positive for Legionella bacteria

Taking Action

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors are considering oversight measures that would give the board more authority over school maintenance in the county. This comes amid the discovery of the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease at a sixth Chesterfield school, a board member confirmed Tuesday.

Leslie Haley, the Midlothian District Supervisor, told 8News over the phone that test samples from Matoaca High School came back positive for Legionella bacteria. Matoaca joins five other Chesterfield schools that have tested positive for the bacteria: Midlothian Middle, Greenfield Elementary, Falling Creek Middle, Hopkins Elementary and L.C. Bird High.

Haley explained that samples from Matoaca and L.C. Bird were retested after the schools were cleaned. Both tests were again positive for Legionella bacteria.

“Nobody should be subjected to this,” Haley told 8News. “The rest of the community needs to be upset too.”

Parents of Matoaca High School students were sent a letter Sept. 3 that confirmed one tower at the school tested positive for Legionella bacteria. The letter, which 8News obtained Tuesday, did say the results were preliminary.

Matoaca High School parents and staff:

Below is a message from the division regarding the most recent testing on the two cooling towers at our school.

Chesterfield County Public Schools recently worked with an independent contractor to accelerate a schedule to clean and provide preventative maintenance to water cooling towers found outside on school grounds, in light of Legionella bacteria recently found in similar towers at Falling Creek Middle, Midlothian Middle and Greenfield Elementary.

The school division’s accelerated plan was not suggested or requested by the Chesterfield Health District or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which are leading a local investigation seeking to determine the source of 11 cases of Legionnaires’ disease identified in Chesterfield County this summer. (The Health District has informed the school division that there is nothing that positively links the towers at Falling Creek Middle, Midlothian Middle or Greenfield Elementary with any of the confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease at this time.)

After the third party cleaning and remediation on the two towers at Matoaca High, a follow-up test was conducted. The preliminary results indicate that one tower tested negative and the second tested positive for Legionella bacteria. Again, these results are preliminary.

The cooling tower with the positive test was taken offline this morning for re-cleaning, shocking and retesting by the third-party contractors. There will not be a disruption to the learning environment, as the second tower can satisfy the cooling needs at this time.

No Matoaca High students or staff have reported any related illnesses to the school division or the county health department.

We will continue to keep you informed as more information becomes available.

About Legionella bacteria (provided in an Aug. 8 Virginia Department of Health news release)

Legionella bacteria are found naturally in the environment and are commonly identified in building water systems and devices that are not adequately maintained.

While cases in the Chesterfield County area have increased, it is important to remember that most people exposed to Legionella do not develop Legionnaires’ disease. Those over the age of 50, people who smoke, and people with weakened immune systems, chronic lung disease, or other chronic health conditions are at increased risk for developing disease. Legionnaires’ disease is treatable with antibiotics.

The risk to residents or visitors to Chesterfield County remains small,” said Dr. Alexander Samuel, Chesterfield Health District Director. “The health department continues to make every effort to identify cases of Legionnaires’ disease and will continue to work with facilities to remediate any potential source of exposure.”

Matoaca Principal John Murray, Ed.D. 

Haley said that the health department only examined samples from schools within a range of where the bacteria was found and not the entire county. The Chesterfield County Risk Management group, working with the county and the school board, hired a company that found the bacteria in more schools.

“There may be schools that we don’t know about yet,” she said. “Our risk management team and internal audit team is doing a deep dive into this.”

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