Governor Deploys State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to the Bronx to
Examine Sites with High Levels of Legionella Bacteria

Wadsworth Center Laboratory to Provide Legionella Testing at
No Cost to Building Owners, Operators and Managers

Free Hotlines Established to Facilitate Sample Collection and
Testing: 888-769-7243 or 518-485-1159

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the New York State Department of Health is providing free Legionella testing for building owners, operators, managers and landlords of buildings with cooling towers or evaporative condenser units that can be sources of the bacteria. Testing will be done free of charge through the Department’s Wadsworth Center Laboratory. This service will be available until October, when the hot summer temperatures that may contribute to the growth of Legionella bacteria have moderated.

Governor Cuomo has also made State phone lines available in order to further facilitate Legionella testing by State Health officials. Those numbers (888-769-7243 or 518-485-1159) will begin operating at 4:00 p.m. today, free of charge. Trained operators will be available Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm. These lines are designed to support sample collection, as described below, which will facilitate testing by the Department of Health. If you require medical attention, call your health care provider or 9-1-1 immediately.

Coinciding with this announcement, the Governor also deployed State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to the Bronx to examine multiple sites found to have high concentrations of Legionella. Dr. Zucker will also be working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to do a full briefing with State and local officials on the outbreak in New York City next week.

To view the Governor’s statement from earlier today regarding Legionnaires’ Disease, please click here.

Dr. Zucker said, “Our state-of-the-art labs at the Wadsworth Center are providing this free service as a way to prevent the spread of Legionnaires’ Disease, which is seen in the summer months when the bacteria may grow in cooling towers and spread through water droplets. These services will help safeguard the public and raise awareness about the importance of properly maintaining these systems.”

Dr. Mary T. Bassett, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said, “We have worked closely with the State Health Department throughout this outbreak and we value our partnership. The State’s offer of free testing for building owners will strengthen our effort to protect the City from Legionella.”

Senate Majority Leader John J. Flanagan said, “While we continue to deal with the effects of the epidemic of Legionnaires’ disease, we must do everything possible to protect the safety of New Yorkers in their homes and in their communities. By testing buildings for the presence of this disease, at no cost to the owner of the building, we hope to be able to better contain its spread and keep our residents safe from harm. I commend the Governor for taking this appropriate and necessary step today.”

Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie said, “The Bronx has been hard hit by the recent outbreak of the deadly legionnaires disease and I applaud Governor Cuomo’s efforts to provide state assistance to detect and prevent the spread of this deadly virus. We have a responsibility to protect the health and wellbeing of the public. Residents in the Bronx and across the state will be able to rest a little easier knowing additional precautions are being taken to ensure their health and wellness.”

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said, “Once again, Governor Cuomo is there for The Bronx when we need him. This free testing will help prevent future outbreaks of Legionnaires’ Disease not just in my borough, but across the City and the State. I am grateful to Governor Cuomo and the State Department of Health for moving quickly to act in a time of public health crisis.”

The NYS DOH Wadsworth Center Laboratories have been part of a recent public heath response in New York City to expeditiously stem a Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak by conducting laboratory testing on environmental and human samples. The Wadsworth Center’s Bacteriology Laboratory, located at the David Axelrod Institute in Albany, has tested more than 100 samples from cooling towers in the Bronx, of which six cooling towers have tested positive for contamination. Additionally, the lab is performing genotyping to determine whether the same strain of Legionella is common to all the towers and associated with samples from patients.

Legionnaires’ Disease is not spread person-to-person. Legionella exists naturally in water and moist soil and is found in creeks and ponds, hot water tanks, water in air conditioning cooling towers and evaporative condensers, as well as soil at excavation sites – but high concentrations of the bacteria can be dangerous. Proper maintenance and routine disinfection of cooling towers can help minimize the presence of Legionella and reduce the risk for exposure to the public. Although some smaller buildings may have units of this type, water-based cooling towers are typically found in larger, industrial, commercial and high-rise residential sites. The six sites that tested positive in New York City are all sites of this nature.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Cooling Engineers (ASHRAE) recently released new guidelines that landlords are encouraged to follow. Additional information on Legionnaires’ disease from DOH can be found here.

Building owners, operators, managers, and landlords who wish to have DOH test for Legionella should send the name and address to which the kit should be mailed, and a working phone number to: DOH will send an appropriate sampling kit with simple instructions for sample collection.

DOH will provide results of the tests, and when the test shows dangerous levels of Legionella or other bacteria, DOH will provide clear guidelines for disinfecting these systems.