Non-viable legionella bacteria found in sinks at Harvey Hall

Non-viable legionella bacteria found in sinks at Harvey Hall
Harvey Convention Center in Tyler is closed on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. The City temporarily closed the event center because of a possible link between the building and a Legionnaires' outbreak that has killed one person. (Blake Holland/KLTV Multimedia Journalist) (Source: Blake Holland/KLTV)

TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - The City of Tyler has released test findings in the search for possible legionella bacteria in Harvey Hall.

Editor’s note: The previous version of this press release stated that viable or dead legionella bacteria was found in water collected from two kitchen sinks. That has been corrected by the city to remove the word viable to say “dead Legionella bacteria.”

From the City of Tyler:

UPDATE (12/02/19): Phigenics Analytical Services Laboratory in Fayetteville, Arkansas released a preliminary testing report dated Sunday, Nov. 24 showing no Legionella bacteria was found in water samples taken from Harvey Hall. The report, released Wednesday, Nov. 27 indicates Legionella bacteria was not detected in four potable water sources at Harvey Hall. However, dead Legionella bacteria was found in water collected from two kitchen sinks in the building.

The report indicates the amount of viable bacteria found on the two sinks was below the concentration recommended by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Bacteria has been killed and will not grow. It is considered dead.

East Texas Water Quality under the oversight of ERI Consulting, Inc., a Tyler environmental engineering firm hired by the City, manually disinfected the water fixtures at Harvey Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 26.

To date, ERI has flushed Harvey Hall’s water system, conducted a vigorous disinfection of the system and disinfected all of the water fixtures.

“We got good results on Wednesday,” said Larry Snodgrass, President, ERI Consulting, Inc. “We flushed the system, disinfected the system and the fixtures and we are controlling the hot water in the building by turning it off.”

Snodgrass also said ERI plans to flush the water system at Harvey Hall again on Wednesday, Dec. 4 prior to the Mistletoe and Magic event that begins the following day.

The City is waiting on more test results from samples that needed to be cultured for two weeks. Those results should be returned in about a week.

UPDATE (11/25/19): The City of Tyler of Tyler through North East Texas Public Health District (NET Health) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has deemed Harvey Hall safe for the public. The water system at Harvey Hall was disinfected, pathways of exposure to Legionella bacteria have been eliminated and water samples collected from at least 54 outlets at the facility have been sent to a lab in Houston and a lab in Fayetteville, Arkansas where they will be tested for Legionella.

East Texas Water Quality under the oversight of ERI Consulting, Inc., a Tyler environmental engineering firm began disinfecting the system at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 22. NET Health assisted in the collection of water samples from Harvey Hall on Sunday, Nov. 24 that were sent to the labs that day.

“We’ve disinfected the entire system to where the levels of any bacteria particularly Legionella should be very low,” said Larry Snodgrass, President, ERI Consulting, Inc. “We expect a success rate of well over 90 percent on our disinfection. It will be 14 days before we know the results because it is a bacteria and those need to be cultured for a certain period of time.”

Chlorine above 220 parts per million (ppm) was used in the disinfection and allowed to sit in the pipes and tanks until about 7 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 23 when the flushing process began. The system flush was completed about an hour later and chlorine level tests of the water in the faucets, toilets, urinals and sinks began. Those tests revealed normal chlorine levels were present in the water system.

Some preliminary sample results are expected to be returned on Wednesday afternoon from the Fayetteville lab.

The City of Tyler and ERI consulting don’t anticipate results showing there is no Legionella in the water samples because the bacteria is present in drinking water and natural water sources. The goal is for Harvey Hall’s water system to be as good or better than the public drinking water standard.

To prevent exposure to Legionella bacteria in Harvey Hall, the entire hot water system has been shut off to eliminate the growth of the bacteria. No devices that aerosolize/vaporize water are present nor will they be allowed into Harvey Hall eliminating the pathways to exposure.

“Based on those three things it is absolutely safe to be in the facility,” Snodgrass said. “CDC and NET Health concur with that.”

Long term plans include water management plans to regularly flush the water system at Harvey Hall and to do follow up sampling and testing.

ORIGINAL (11/22/19): The City of Tyler has been notified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that, though testing for Legionella is positive at Harvey Hall, the bacteria strain found in samples from Harvey Hall was not consistent with the strain that caused the Legionnaires’ disease cases present in our community.

Due to the presence of Legionella bacteria detected within the Harvey Hall plumbing system, the City of Tyler will continue to move forward with its short-term remediation plan, followed by a long-term ongoing management plan.

“The City is taking an aggressive and proactive approach to mitigating the risk associated with Legionella,” said George Roberts, Northeast Texas Public Health District’s chief executive officer. “We discussed these measures with the CDC and both agencies support the City’s plan of action.”

The City has hired East Texas Water Quality to perform the remediation process (see attached). The City has contracted with ERI Consulting, Inc. for added inspection and oversight of the process. This process will begin Friday, Nov. 22. Additionally flushing will occur Saturday, Nov. 23 with testing to follow on Sunday, Nov. 24.

According to the CDC, Legionella is a common bacteria occurring naturally in freshwater and manmade environments. People can contract Legionnaires’ disease when they either breathe in mist or accidentally swallow water into the lungs containing the Legionella bacteria. Those at increased risk are adults 50 years or older, current or former smokers, and people with a weakened immune system from chronic illness. Common sources of infection include decorative fountains and hot tubs.

As part of their short-term remediation plan, the City will disconnect the hot water system in Harvey Hall as a further precaution. The City will continue to perform testing once remediation is completed to ensure safe levels within the system. Moving forward, no devices that aerosolize/vaporize water will be allowed within the facility.

“The City will continue to follow the plan laid out by our consultants for the Harvey Hall plumbing system,” said City Manager Edward Broussard. “This will ensure we are adhering to best practices that keep the risk of bacteria growth low.”

With the approval of NET Health and CDC, Harvey Hall Convention Center will re-open its doors to staff and the public on Monday, Nov. 25.

“These measures mitigate the health risk to the public,” said Roberts. “With these measures in place, we support the reopening of Harvey Hall.”

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