NYC officials continued to insist that New Yorkers have nothing to fear about the outbreak of Legionnaires' disease just as five more cases were reported. So far there have been 86 reported cases of the pneumonia-like illness and seven deaths, all in the South Bronx. Mayor de Blasio said, "For too long, the risk of Legionnaires’ was underestimated. We are going to be very aggressive in dealing with this problem. We do not accept this as an inherent risk that can’t be addressed. We believe there are additional actions that we can take as a city to improve the situation for the future."
The city has identified the cooling towers of five building towers—Lincoln Medical Center, Concourse Plaza, Opera House Hotel, a Verizon building and Streamline Plastic Co.—as where legionella bacteria was found. All have been cleaned so far.
There is no risk to the water supply, officials said, but the mayor did add, "It’s crucial that each case be identified early on, and that treatment be reached quickly, and achieved quickly." All of the fatalities have been older individuals with additional underlying medical conditions that made them more vulnerable to the disease.
De Blasio announced that he and the City Council will "set new inspection standards for buildings with cooling and condensing units. Those, again, are the usual sources of Legionella. If Legionella is detected in any of these units, immediate action will be required by the building ownership - and there will be clear penalties for failure to comply. And again, in any instance where we find such a site, and the building owners do not act, the city will."
There have never been NYC inspection standards for cooling towers before. According to the NY Times, "Since the outbreak that gave Legionnaires’ disease its name nearly four decades ago, water-cooling towers have been identified as prime breeding grounds for the deadly disease. But even as cases have increased across the nation, and experts have called for more safeguards, New York City has done little to address the risks the towers pose as they power air-conditioning systems in many large buildings."
A study of NYC Legionnaires' cases from 2002 to 2011 found: "Overall, incidence of Legionnaires’ disease in the city of New York increased 230% from 2002 to 2009 and followed a socioeconomic gradient, with highest incidence occurring in the highest poverty areas."
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who has been calling for new processes for cooling tower inspections since the outbreak was first reported, said, "It is encouraging that Mayor de Blasio has joined my call for new legislation in response to this current outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease... It is the responsibility of government to protect the health and well-being of the public, and this common sense proposal will help do just that. It cannot be forgotten that seven Bronx residents have died during this outbreak. An appropriate inspection mechanism could have saved lives."