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Cooling Tower

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Superintendent James Grossane file photo

Traces of the potentially hazardous legionella bacteria have been found in cooling towers at both high schools in the Smithtown Central School District, Superintendent James Grossane said Thursday.

In a statement sent out to district parents and posted on the district’s website, Grossane said a state engineer collected samples Wednesday morning that confirmed “detectable concentrations of the Legionella bacteria” in cooling towers, which come into contact with their respective schools’ water systems at the Smithtown East and Smithtown West high school buildings.

The samples were collected as part of a safety precaution required by the New York State Department of Health.

The superintendent added that the incidents were isolated only to the towers and did not spread into their respective schools’ water supplies or the greater Smithtown area, and there have not been any reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease, a type of pneumonia caused by the legionella bacteria, at either school.

“The only areas affected were the cooling towers, which are now back up and running safely,” Grossane said in the statement.

The inspection came in response to the recent outbreak of illness caused by Legionella bacteria in the Bronx, in order to prevent a greater spread of the bacteria throughout the state, the Smithtown superintendent said. The Department of Health issued an emergency regulation over recent weeks requiring the registration, testing, inspection and certification of cooling towers throughout the region, prompting the Smithtown inspection and ultimate discovery of the bacteria.

The superintendent sent out an automated voice message to parents throughout the district assuring that both cooling towers were safe for students and staff at the high schools and will continue to be maintained twice monthly. Grossane also said the district took voluntary steps to complete an “offline system decontamination,” which included an additional chlorine treatment, a system drain and flush, manual surface cleaning, refilling with treated water and re-establishing treatment.

“Follow-up monitoring will be performed in accordance with the new regulation, which does include retesting as verification of the treatment,” Grossane said in the statement.

The Legionella bacteria can cause respiratory disease that could lead to health complications like pneumonia, which is sometimes fatal. Fewer than 100 cases are reported each year, typically in upstate New York, and most cases are singular isolated incidents, the Smithtown Central School District said. The bacteria exist naturally in water and moist soil and can be spread through the air from a soil or water source.