City Orders All Cooling Towers to Be Disinfected as Legionnaires’ Death Toll Climbs

10 people have now died of Legionnaires' Disease in New York City.

Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Mayor Bill de Blasio. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

In response to the worst outbreak of Legionnaires’ Disease in New York City history, all cooling towers in the five boroughs must be tested and disinfected in the next 14 days, Mayor Bill de Blasio said this afternoon.

Failure to comply with the executive order is a misdemeanor, he said.

“It is encouraging that so many people who did contract this illness have been treated and discharged,” Mr. de Blasio said at a City Hall press conference, even as he announced there are now 100 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ and 10 deaths in the last month.

The outbreak of the flu-like disease has been confined to the South Bronx. Legionnaires’ can spread through watery mist and the city has identified one of the five cooling towers that tested positive in the Bronx as the source of the outbreak.

There is no comprehensive list of buildings with cooling towers. They are scattered throughout the city, Dr. Mary Bassett, the commissioner of the Department of Health, said. They are usually in commercial and industrial buildings.

“We’ve never seen an outbreak like this … there’s no such trigger, if you will,” Mr. de Blasio said. “We have never seen a situation like this before in New York City.”

Though residents in the South Bronx have expressed frustration over the city’s response to the outbreak and their borough president, Ruben Diaz Jr., criticized Mr. de Blasio for not seeking federal help to handle Legionnaires’, officials said the number of diagnosed cases has been on the decline since late July.

As recently as a week ago, there were only 2 deaths from Legionnaires’ in the South Bronx.

“We’re not finding new contaminated sources; we’re not finding contamination outside the area,” he said. “We’re seeing obviously a reduction in number of cases.”

Mr. Bassett conceded, however, that the de Blasio administration has yet to determine why this Legionnaires’ outbreak was so deadly, far exceeding typical death tolls from the disease.

The mayor had previously announced plans to introduce legislation into the City Council to establish requirements for cooling towers to be registered with the city and routinely inspected, a process that would take much longer than today’s order. The Daily News slammed him on its front page this week, saying the city had taken too long to target the cooling towers—which have never been required to undergo testing or be reported to the city—and urging the mayor to “get a grip.”

Just as Mr. de Blasio spoke about the new executive order today—thanking the state health commissioner but not Gov. Andrew Cuomo, with whom he has publicly feuded—the governor put out two press releases on Legionairres’, noting his health commissioner had been on the scene in the Bronx with Mr. Diaz and that the state would conduct testing of cooling towers itself.

While Mr. Cuomo’s press releases heaped praise on Mr. Diaz for being at “the center” of the outbreak, they did not mention Mr. de Blasio.

Jillian Jorgensen contributed to this story.

City Orders All Cooling Towers to Be Disinfected as Legionnaires’ Death Toll Climbs