According to a recent study published by Environmental Science & Technology Letters, the infamous tainted tap water of Flint, Mich., not only caused lead poisoning local children, but was also tied to a 17-month long Legionnaire’s disease outbreak between 2014 and 2015. During this period, there were ninety-one confirmed cases of Legionnaire’s disease, as well as 12 linked deaths.
“Our team recognized that the conditions in Flint—a corrosive new water source in an aging water system—were just right for Legionella,” says author of the study and Virginia Tech environmental microbiologist, Amy Pruden.
Legionella bacteria are found in the organic matter lining drinking water pipes. In the case of Flint, the bacteria reproduction was spurred by iron leached out of the pipes’ mineral lining by corrosive water.The iron also deactivated the chlorine disinfectant that would’ve killed the bacteria.
Recorded cases of Legionnaire's disease in the U.S. have quadrupled over the past 10 years, and the majority of them can be linked back to the drinking water in domestic homes, just like the cases in Michigan.
The Virginia Tech team collected tap water samples from homes and hospitals around Flint, MI., and found Legionella concentrations at seven times as high as those found in baseline surveys. Over half the water samples showed no signs of chlorine as well.
In contrast, when the team looked at water from homes whose water source comes from Lake Huron, the samples resulted in no detection of Legionella.
“This paper shows that the water quality disruptions in Flint directly contributed to the presence of Legionella bacteria and the disease cases that subsequently occurred,” says Janet E. Stout, director at the nation’s leading Legionella testing laboratory, the Special Pathogens Laboratory Pittsburgh.
Little has been done to eradicate the water problems in Flint, even after its lead contamination crisis spawned national outrage and concern. And the confirmation of Legionella is now yet another threat to the lives of the families in Flint, Mich. Researchers have done their work, The facts are out there. It’s imperative that state officials take action now.