Bronx victims of Legionnaires’ outbreak sue landlord of nonprofit building

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After testing samples from cooling towers in the Highbridge neighborhood where the outbreak occurred, the New York City Health Department said in mid-June that he had matched the strain of Legionella found in the Doe Fund building with the strain found in two of the patients affected by the outbreak. The city said at the time that the building owner had complied with orders to immediately disinfect the cooling tower and carry out additional corrective measures and was working with the Department of Health on a management plan to long term.

The Doe Fund did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuits. The building in question was a recent addition to the neighborhood, built as part of a tax exemption affordable housing program with funding from the State Housing Finance Agency and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. M+T Bank also provided financing, according to the Doe Fund website. His flat lottery opened in May 2021 and the Doe Fund announced the building was ready for occupancy last July.

When asked if the city is considering new measures to prevent future outbreaks, Patrick Gallahue, spokesman for the city’s health department, said in a statement: “The city has a surveillance system robust that quickly identifies clusters of Legionnaires’ disease and a rapid response environment that identifies cooling towers in the survey area, tests cooling towers for Legionella bacteria – the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease – and compels owners of cooling towers to be remedied if Legionella bacteria are identified.

He added that the Doe Fund’s long-term prevention plan would include more frequent monitoring and water sampling.

Following a severe Legionnaires’ outbreak in the Bronx in 2015 that infected more than 100 people and killed 12 – the the greatest epidemic the city had never registered – New York and New York State began requiring building owners to register their cooling towers and adopted new laws around maintenance and testing.

Jory Lange, Long’s attorney, said he aimed to determine how well the Doe Fund complied with those rules. Since the most recent data released by the city is from 2017, it is unclear how effective city and state regulations have been in reducing the risk of Legionnaires’ disease.

Gallahue of the city’s health department said it’s difficult to answer that question based on recent data because there are a variety of factors affecting the prevalence of Legionnaires’ disease.

“For example, armyworms are linked to climate change, and as temperatures warm up we will see the risk increase,” Gallahue said. “Additionally, the identification of more cases may be linked to much better surveillance – which has improved markedly in New York since 2015. There is also now much greater awareness among [health care] suppliers.”

Long, the Bronx resident who is suing the Doe Fund, said it was right for the nonprofit to take responsibility for its role in the latest outbreak.

“They asked to be in this community,” she said. “Part of owning a building or a business in the community is that you have to take care of the community that you are meant to serve.”


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