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Decontamination Of Co-Op City Cooling Towers Underway After Legionella Bacteria Found

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The New York City health department says it should take a week to 10 days to decontaminate cooling towers of a Bronx housing complex where preliminary tests found the bacteria that cause Legionnaires' disease.

The department said eight of 12 recent cases of Legionella bacteria in the borough have been diagnosed among Co-Op City's residents.

Hundreds of residents packed a meeting Tuesday night wanting to know how the bacteria ended up getting people sick.

"It's frustrating because I think they're evading a lot of the situation and you know, my mom was one of them who got sick," resident Sandra Hernandez said.

The symptoms of Legionnaire's disease include fever, chills and muscle aches. The illness cannot be spread from person to person. It is contracted by breathing in contaminated mist or vapor.

"It lives in water. People generally get it from breathing in mists of water that have it," Dr. Sharon Balter with the health department said.

The system's water is used to cool the towers' heating and electrical network. It is not the same water residents use for drinking, cooking and bathing.

"We use our water, heating, cooling every day and something bad could be happening," said resident Felyce Starr.

But some of the patients, like Brenda Hines' 29-year-old son, live on the opposite side of the building complex from the cooling towers. She said her son's symptoms were so debilitating, he was in intensive care for more than a week.

"If it's coming from the cooling tower and people have their windows open, that could happen," Balter said.

The cooling towers have been shut down for cleaning and chlorination. And complex manager River Bay Corporation began decontaminating the cooling system Saturday, the department said.

"We shut all that down, completely shut it down and filled it with chlorine," said Co-Op City attorney Jeffrey Buss. "We're taking every step the Department of Health is recommending."

The health department said tenants' heat or hot water service isn't expected to be disrupted during the decontamination process.

Officials urged anyone with symptoms to seek care.

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