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Health Department: Legionnaires' Disease Bacteria Found In Co-Op City Cooling Towers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Preliminary results show the cooling towers of a Bronx housing complex are contaminated with Legionnaires' disease bacteria, according to the New York City Health Department.

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

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

"We shut all that down, completely shut it down and filled it with chlorine. We're taking every step the department of health is recommending," Jeffrey Buss, the co-op's city attorney, told CBS2's Weijia Jiang.

The decontamination is expected to take another 8 to 10 days, CBS2 reported.

Health Department: Legionnaires' Disease Bacteria Found In Co-Op City Cooling Towers

"We did find preliminary positives in the cooling tower. We are continuing to investigate and continue to test other sites," Health Department's Dr. Sharon Balter told WCBS 880's Alex Silverman.

Most people get Legionnaires' by inhaling bacteria from the environment. It cannot be spread person-to-person.

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

The symptoms of Legionnaires' disease can include a cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle aches and headaches. An estimated 8,000 to 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires' each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can be treated with antibiotics.

"Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting," Brenda Hines said of the symptoms her son Ronald Hines had.

But Hines said she's confused because they live on the opposite side of Co-Op City and the presumed source of the bacteria.

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

legionnaires' victim
Ronald Hines, 29, spent nine days in intensive care after being diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease. (Photo courtesy of Brenda Hines)

"It started off as a little cold," resident Brittanie Reyes said. "It was horrible. It was horrible.

Doctors at the hospital said she had pneumonia, a main symptom of Legionnaires'.

Reyes spent four and a half days in the hospital and said she's feeling much better now.

Health Department: Legionnaires' Disease Bacteria Found In Co-Op City Cooling Towers

Despite assurances from the health department and building authorities, many residents Tuesday night did not feel at ease.

"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," Sandra Hernandez told 1010 WINS' Sonia Rincon.

"You don't always tell the truth, lady," another attendee said during Tuesday night's meeting with residents, the health department and building authorities.

"A lot of things are going on in this world and people aren't really telling you the truth about anything,"

Jerome Rice is also skeptical, wondering why residents were alerted soon of the cases.

"Don't wait until it's up to eight cases and say now we have a problem," Rice said.

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

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

Vernon Cooper, of Marion Scott Real Estate Inc., is gravely concerned about what's happening at Co-Op City. He was the general manager there for 15 years up until November, when his management company was ousted.

Now there is no management company in place, Rincon reported, and he's worried that there is no system of checks and balances to ensure proper maintenance.

He says this contamination could maybe have been entirely avoided if his management company hadn't been given the boot.

"It's a crisis that we would have handled a lot better if we were in place," Cooper said.

"If you are checking the system like it should be checked, on a regular basis, then you have no need to be concerned. We certainly had that under control when we were here," he added.

Cooper said that the fact that there is no professional management company in place, the building is put in jeopardy.

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(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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