If you’re thinking about possible sources of disease transmission, Verizon probably isn’t the first
thing that pops into your thoughts. However, this time, New York Attorney General Letitia James
revealed the results of a three-year probe into cooling towers that were installed on structures
across the state. It was not a good look for Verizon.
“Verizon failed to maintain its cooling towers on buildings across New York City, causing the
towers to spread Legionnaires’ disease, a dangerous and lethal form of pneumonia,” James
stated in a tweet.
The release of these findings in which Verizon reviewed the maintenance records of Verizon’s
cooling towers since 2017, is with two clusters of Legionnaires disease in the US and a recent
incident in New York’s Bronx which has caused the death of two people and infected 24,
possibly more. The New York City Health Department has now linked these incidents to four
cooling towers located in the Bronx’s Highbridge region where the bacterium was detected to be
in the process of growing. There was no information on the Health Department that did not say
who was responsible for the monitoring of the towers. The Covid-19 pandemic might be a factor in the increase in these sorts of outbreaks. The abrupt closure of buildings could have caused it to be more difficult to allow bacteria to thrive in the plumbing and water systems.
Cooling towers, such as those utilized in the case of Verizon are usually erected on top of
rooftops and are usually used to cool down equipment for cooling systems, such as air
conditioning as well as telecommunications equipment. There are a variety of infrastructures like
these that private businesses put in and around populous zones. The companies that operate
this type of equipment must adhere to the best practices for making sure that their equipment
isn’t a hazard to safety. If the infrastructure isn’t maintained properly and regulators don’t find
violations — it could be dangerous and could even cause health concerns for the general public.
Legionnaires disease, due to Legionella bacteria is but one of the. The disease was named
following an epidemic of this disease during an event for an organization called the American
Legion, a veterans’ group, in 1976. While it is often present within the natural water sources
such as streams, ponds, and lakes, this bacterium is a problem when it makes its way into
systems of water constructed by humans, such as bathtubs and sinks, and plumbing.
When the bacteria begins to grow within these fixtures and spreads to other fixtures, it could be
transmitted through small drops of water which, if breathed could infect someone’s lung and
result in pneumonia. Legionnaires’ disease can typically be treated with antibiotics and its
symptoms can be difficult to distinguish from other illnesses. It is a risk but only for those who
have particular risk factors or illnesses which include those who are over 50 or those who have
cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that approximately
one in 10 people who contract Legionnaires suffer from complications. It is not passed from
person to person.
Here’s where Verizon’s cooling systems are useful Cooling towers are able to discharge onto
the surrounding air-water used to cool its equipment. If the water is contaminated with
Legionella bacteria, this bacteria could infect the air, as well which could be transmitted to
nearby people. The cooling towers are especially concerned because they operate at
temperatures that are perfect for the growth of this bacteria particularly during the summer
months. Cooling towers can be found everywhere, as they’re utilized to cool everything from
machines to air cooling systems employed in industrial processes as well as the production of energy.
“Electronic equipment puts out a ton of heat and they have to keep it at a cool temperature to
work,” Brian Labus, an infectious disease epidemiologist and an Assistant Professor at the
University of Nevada Las Vegas School of Public Health. “Any time you have computer
systems, which is what these places have, there is a ton of heat being produced, and they
[have] to get rid of the heat — otherwise they’ll melt all their equipment.”
Businesses and organizations that run cooling towers are required to take various measures to
prevent the growth of bacteria, such as regularly checking their equipment for infections. New
York, for instance, adopted local and state laws that regulate these towers more vigorously after 138 patients were diagnosed with and 16 of them passed away of the Legionnaires’ Disease during an outbreak in 2015 within the Bronx.
Following the passage of these laws and the office of the state attorney general began
investigating those who owned cooling towers in order to ensure they were adhering to the rules
of New York.
According to an investigation by the attorney general, Verizon — which employs other
companies to oversee its towers – failed to inspect regularly its cooling towers and did not
disinfect its cooling towers properly when the bacteria was found. Overall, the company
recorded at least 225 violations in 45 locations across New York. The company is now required
to Verizon has to pay a penalty of $118,000 and implement a number of new processes to
ensure that its towers are maintained in a safe manner. Verizon started to Recode that it had
admitted that there were no errors.
“Legionnaires’ disease remains a deadly presence in areas across our state, particularly in
low-income communities and communities of color,” James declared in a statement issued on
Thursday. “It is essential that companies such as Verizon are taking the necessary actions to
avoid the spread of this preventable and lethal disease.”
Infections with Legionnaires disease continue to be an issue all over the United States.
Alongside the recent outbreak within the Bronx, New Jersey health officials have linked the
cluster of Legionnaires cases in the last month to a Hampton Inn, and in the year 2019, the
health department of Georgia identified an outbreak that likely caused more than the number of
instances of the disease in Hampton Inn’s cooling tower. Legionella bacteria also have been
found in unusual places including the beverage processing plant hot water tankers that are used
in the Ford production facility and a GlaxoSmithKline location and cooling towers utilized for
However, the findings of the New York investigation are a reminder to all the companies that are
building infrastructure or using it in towns and cities across the nation — particularly those that
depend upon water for cooling.
“As a tech company, you probably wouldn’t think about infecting somebody with something
[that’s] running your equipment,” Labus explained. “It does show the importance of paying
attention to your systems and providing the appropriate levels of preventative maintenance and
making sure that you don’t get to the point where you can spread disease to others.”