TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—The Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) is notifying the community that a cooling tower located in the Tompkins County Mental Health Department at 201 East Green Street has shown elevated levels of a bacteria called Legionella.

The cool tower is part of a recirculated water system in the building’s cooling, refrigeration or energy production system, and all owners of cooling towers in New York State are required to test the towers routinely for this bacteria and disinfect routinely.

Integrated Water Management (IWM), the entity contracted to manage the health department’s cooling tower, received sample results on Sept. 1 showing that the concentration of Legionella in the tower was >1,500 colony-forming units per milliliter. Anything over 1,000 units per milliliter requires public notification, review of the tower’s treatment protocols and decontamination of the tower.

IWM performed decontamination of the cooling tower on Sept. 8, notified Tompkins County Environmental Health of the increased levels, reviewed the treatment protocol and will retest within the next seven days.

If increased bacterial levels remain, further decontamination and disinfection will be required.

In regard to this exposure, the risk to the public is low, and the mental health building will remain open to the public during business hours.

Legionella exists naturally in the environment, and people often receive low exposure levels without contracting the disease. Exposure to Legionella can cause Legionellosis (Legionnaires’ disease), and if left untreated, can lead to pneumonia.

Individuals most at risk are those with weakened immune systems, current or former smokers, those with chronic lung diseases or those over 50 years old.

Symptoms may include the following:

  • Cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle aches, and headaches
  • If left untreated, this bacteria disease may cause pneumonia
  • The incubation period for Legionnaire’s disease ranges from two to 10 days
  • Most cases of illness associated with Legionella can be treated successfully with antibiotics
  • Legionellosis has not been proven to be contagious from person to person, so quarantine or isolation of infected persons is not required
  • People of any age can get Legionellosis, but the disease most often affects the elderly
  • People with underlying illnesses or with lowered immune system resistance to disease are also at higher risk. It rarely occurs in otherwise healthy people

If you develop these symptoms, consult with your healthcare provider, and further questions can be directed to the TCHD at (607) 274-6600 or online here.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...