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Lawmakers Demand Transparency About Cooling Towers Linked To Legionnaires' Disease

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – A New York City councilman and New York state senator say the Department of Buildings should provide the public more information about cooling towers blamed for spreading Legionnaires' disease.

A current cluster of cases has killed one person and sickened 17 others.

The cooling towers that release water vapor, sometimes contaminated with Legionnaires', are supposed to be inspected annually, CBS2's Clark Fouraker reported.

But City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez says he can't get his hands on data about inspections or violations for towers in Washington Heights and Lower Hamilton Heights.

"That information had to be collected, because of the open data system that we follow in our city. However, it is not easy to navigate and identify this information," he said.

He and State Sen. Marisol Alcantara, who lives in the area, are calling on the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to release information on the cooling towers.

The health department says they have all been inspected. Results to identify which towers are contaminated are pending.

"For now, everything is safe in the neighborhood. Drinking water is safe. You should wash and bathe with that water," said Deputy Commissioner for Disease Control Dr. Demetre Daskalakis.

Health officials become especially concerned when a group of cases isclustered. In this instance, 18 people were diagnosed. One of them has died.

"Very sad, just devastating. I feel very bad for the person," one Washington Heights resident said. "It just brings you aware of something you never really thought too much about in your life."

Rodriguez also wants to increase the penalty for buildings that do not get their cooling towers inspected annually. Right now, a first offense results in a $2,000 fine. The councilman wants to raise it to $5,000.

"They need to find out where it's coming from so nobody else passes away," another resident added.

Rodriguez said he wants information about inspections and fines to be available to the public on the DOB's website.

This is not the first time the city has dealt with a Legionnaires' disease cluster. Two years ago, an outbreak in the Bronx killed 12 people.

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