Deadly bacteria found in Richmond's federal building


It looked like business as usual inside. But some employees tell us there is great concern inside. It's been almost exactly 22 years since a fatal outbreak of Legionnaires disease at this very facility. And now, at least the precursor, the bacteria has been discovered again.

"I feel a little nervous myself," said Carol Griffin.

A longtime Social Security Administration employee, Griffin is one of hundreds of federal workers in this building in Richmond who received word that the bacteria Legionella was found inside the Nevin Avenue facility.

"We were told it was in the men's and women's bathroom on the fifth floor and then in the basement, somewhere in the basement," Griffin said.

According to an SSA employee memo obtained by ABC7 News, testing done Aug. 27 found "a positive reading for legionella from water sampling." It goes on to say that the discovery of the bacteria would have "no impact on health and safety of building employees."

That assurance is of little consolation to longtime employees like Griffin who worked here in in 1991 when an outbreak of Legionnaires disease killed one woman and sickened more than a dozen others.

"I think there is a reason to be concerned about health," Griffin said. "I got sick 22 years ago and I think I could get sick again from it."

Legionella is the bacteria that can cause Legionnaires disease, a severe lung infection which includes pneumonia. Another form is called pontiac fever, which is a milder illness without pneumonia.

According to SSA spokeswoman Patricia Raymond, the bacteria has been "boiled out" of the building's tepid water system; that is the warm water used in the restroom sinks, separate from the drinking water.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people age 50 and older are most at-risk for developing Legionnaires disease. So are current or former smokers, people with chronic lung disease, and people who have weakened immune systems, either because of diseases like cancer or diabetes or because they take medication that can suppress the immune system.

Legionnaires disease requires treatment with antibiotics and hospitalization is often needed.

Pontiac fever goes away without specific treatment. Antibiotics don't make a difference.

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