Recently, residents of Flint have learned that a quiet outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease has been killing local citizens over the past year. Concerned families have called for an explanation for the silence of hospitals and government officials who knew that a dramatic increase in cases was occurring yet made no effort to warn the public.
Janet Stout, a national expert in Legionnaires’ disease, detailed to USA Today that she believes “the deaths and many of the illnesses in the summer of 2015 could have been prevented.” Though no causality has yet been determined, the increase in cases of Legionnaires’ disease did begin once Flint switched its main water supply to Flint River. Before April 2014 the city received its water from Lake Huron.
Currently, at least 10 people have died from the disease upon being diagnosed, and several dozens more fell ill over the course of 2014 and 2015 in Flint. Despite the alarming increase in cases across the area, the public wasn’t notified of the mild outbreak until this January.
An investigation by Free Press revealed that an unnamed local county official urged for disclosure of the outbreak to the public, but logistical disagreements led to no announcement or public statement being made. Email exchanges show that multiple county officials called on the Freedom of Information Act to get the city to divulge details of the cleanliness of its water supply.
Lawsuits have been filed against McLaren Flint hospital and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality that assert not enough was done to prevent victims from contracting Legionnaires’ disease. Nelda Hunt, one of the most recent victims of the outbreak, passed away in McLaren Flint hospital after being rushed there on her 80th birthday upon passing out.
Laurie Prochazka, a spokeswoman for the McLaren Flint hospital, said in an email statement to the Free Press that she wants “to assure our patients, visitors, employees and the community that the hospital’s water is safe.” Prochazka would not respond when asked about the lawsuits and allegations leveled against the hospital.
Legionnaires’ disease is caused by the Legionella bacterium, which is typically found in improperly treated drinking water. Man made plumbing systems, including piping, hot tubs, and cooling towers are associated with the disease and bacterium. It is estimated that more cases went unreported, as symptoms are similar to those of pneumonia.
With little seemingly being done by local officials to intervene and take proper action to prevent further cases of Legionnaires’ disease, the responsibility falls on citizens to safeguard their families against the bacterium and pathogens likely present in their drinking water. Outfit your home with a whole house filter with UV from Pelican Water to safely deliver cleaner, purer water to your faucets and sinks.