Government Building Shut Down Due To Drinking Water Contamination

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) headquarters in Baltimore has temporarily closed after legionella bacteria were discovered in the building’s water supply. Legionella, which can cause the potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease, prompted immediate action to protect staff.

Concerning Legionella

Legionnaires’ disease has become a growing concern. According to the CDC, reports of Legionnaires’ disease have increased significantly since 2000. In 2021, an outbreak occurred at Duke University’s K Academy basketball camp, where 84 individuals were exposed to legionella, resulting in flu-like symptoms such as fever, muscle fatigue, nausea, and respiratory issues. Similarly, last August, the Southern Nevada Health District investigated legionella infections at Caesars Palace and The Orleans in Las Vegas.

CMS Response

CMS officials have assured that no employees have been harmed by the bacteria. The bacteria were found during routine plumbing tests, as reported by the Washington Post. CMS stated, “The health and safety of the CMS workforce is our top priority. In an abundance of caution, we have closed our location in Baltimore until the situation is resolved.”

The building will remain closed for several weeks while the water supply undergoes treatment. Employees have been instructed to work remotely during this period. Newsweek has reached out to CMS for further comments through their online contact form.

Understanding Legionnaires’ Disease

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe type of pneumonia with a fatality rate of about 10 percent among those infected. The CDC explains that symptoms typically emerge within two to 14 days after exposure and include pneumonia symptoms, diarrhea, nausea, and confusion.

Legionella bacteria are naturally present in freshwater environments but can become problematic in man-made water systems. Buildings with complex plumbing, such as hospitals, hotels, and office buildings, are particularly susceptible to legionella growth. Factors contributing to the bacteria’s proliferation include warm water, stagnant water, inadequate disinfectant levels, and biofilm presence.

The CDC notes that while person-to-person transmission of legionella is rare, it is not impossible. More commonly, outbreaks are linked to water system contamination or disruptions, such as construction activities that disturb water distribution lines.

Preventive Measures and Remediation

To combat legionella, it is crucial to maintain and monitor water systems diligently. Preventive measures include controlling water temperature, ensuring proper disinfection, and regularly cleaning systems to prevent biofilm buildup. Additionally, awareness of potential contamination sources like hot tubs, water heaters, shower heads, decorative fountains, and large plumbing systems is essential.

The CMS headquarters recently underwent construction, which may have contributed to the bacteria’s presence, although this remains unconfirmed. The Washington Post reported that the building’s closure, starting last Friday, will last several weeks to allow for comprehensive water treatment.

Implementing reverse osmosis filtration and whole-home water conditioners can significantly reduce the risk of legionella contamination. Reverse osmosis systems effectively remove bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants from the water, providing a higher level of safety. Whole-home water conditioners enhance this protection by maintaining consistent water quality throughout the building, ensuring that all water outlets are safeguarded against potential bacterial growth.

By integrating these systems, facilities can better manage water safety, reducing the likelihood of outbreaks and ensuring a healthier environment for occupants. If the CMS government building in Baltimore had these systems in place, their offices wouldn’t have even skipped a beat and they would still be open.

Source: Newsweek