Legionella bacteria found in Birmingham Schools water supply


Birmingham Schools has another health concern to worry about in addition to COVID-19.

Legionella bacteria has been discovered in the district’s water supply.

In an email to families on Wednesday, district officials said that “during this year’s water testing” they were made aware of “increased levels of legionella.”

Not all sites in the district have been tested, but the email said locker room shower access has been closed at both high schools, as well as at the middle schools. Students and staff at all buildings in the district are encouraged to bring their own water bottles from home.

“BPS will provide bottled water for drinking instead of using fountains or water filling stations until additional testing and any potential mitigation is performed throughout the District,” the email read. “Taps that are not designated for drinking water should only be used for handwashing and other non-potable uses and are marked accordingly.”

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The district is working with the Oakland County Health Division and water remediation experts on a mitigation plan that includes increased flushing of plumbing and retesting. An injection into the water system of a biocide is planned as a secondary treatment if testing continues to show legionella bacteria is present. 

School officials did not immediately return requests for comment.

Legionella is commonly known as the bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s Disease, a respiratory infection with symptoms including fever between 102-105 degrees, chills, cough and shortness of breath. 

However, Mark Hansell, OCHD chief of environmental health special programs, said the particular species of legionella found in Birmingham is one that is least likely to cause disease.

“It could, but it’s not the most likely one,” Hansell said. “There are lots of species of legionella bacteria, some more likely to cause disease than others. Just detection in the water system can mean there is bacteria ripe for bacterial growth and it’s something they want to address.” 

Common sources of legionella exposure include cooling towers (large building air conditioning systems), spas and hot tubs, hot water tanks, decorative fountains, and showers.

Hansell said while the bacteria is typically spread through aerosols and not consumption, bottled water is provided out of an “abundance of caution” and use of sinks for handwashing is encouraged to continue due to the importance of battling other illnesses including COVID-19 and flu.

The district’s email noted that the water test results showing legionella bacteria “mostly occur due to…

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