Harvey Convention Center has been deemed safe for use, but the city of Tyler is taking extra steps to ensure the facility is as safe as possible after a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.
The city announced Thursday it would begin remediation of the facility’s plumbing systems to ensure future events are safe from a repeat. The facility is set to reopen Monday, but no events are scheduled to begin setup until Nov. 30. Immediate changes include a disinfectant process performed over the weekend, disconnecting hot water systems and barring use of devices that can aerosolize water.
Separately on Friday the Northeast Texas Public Health District received long awaited water sample results from the Centers for Disease Control. The results showed that while Legionella bacteria was detected in cultures, the CDC said it was not the strains connected to the outbreak.
Officials with NET Health said there are more than 50 strains of Legionella that are often found in water, but it is only the aerosolization of bacteria-infected water that causes a health risk.
The Tyler Morning Telegraph met Friday with officials from NET Health, the city and the company contracted to perform plumbing remediation at Harvey Convention Center.
According to the CDC, Legionella is a common bacteria occurring naturally in freshwater and man-made environments. People can contract Legionnaires’ disease when they either breathe in mist or accidentally swallow water containing the Legionella bacteria into the lungs.
Ginger Points, environmental health director for NET Health, said samples were taken from janitorial sinks, hand sinks and an outside tap. Of the six sampled sites, only the outdoor tap had no Legionella bacteria detected.
Those samples came back Friday. The district initially cleared Harvey Convention Center based on lab results from patients and via a process of elimination in regard to the types of devices that can cause the Legionella bacteria to be heated and aerosolized. Those devices include air conditioning cooling towers, decorative fountains, hot tubs and shower heads.
NET Health officials said only hot tubs and decorative fountains could have been present during the fair, and because there was no risk of another similar display with subsequent events, the facility was deemed safe for use.
NET Health CEO George Roberts said the CDC informed them that this outbreak, which pointed to a high likelihood of hot tubs being a possible source, and a similar one two weeks prior in North Carolina were the first instances the department had seen of such displays causing outbreaks.
Roberts said the CDC this week issued nationwide guidelines on hot tub display safety after the outbreaks in Tyler and North Carolina.
Points said the abnormally high temperatures this September could have caused the bacteria to incubate more quickly. The temperatures during the fair ranged from about 10 to 15 degrees higher than average for that time of year in Tyler, according to weather data.
The city has decided to continue with planned short-term remediations, and also begin planning long-term remediation to the plumbing system at the facility.
“The city is taking an aggressive and proactive approach to mitigating the risk associated with Legionella,” Roberts said. “We discussed these measures with the CDC and both agencies support the city’s plan of action.”
City Manager Ed Broussard said Harvey is their highest priority, but once those systems are remediated, they will begin looking into whether the same process is necessary at other city facilities.
East Texas Water Quality has been hired to perform the remediation process and has contracted with ERI Consulting for additional inspection and oversight.
The city began flushing on Friday.
ERI President Larry Snograss said the short-term process consists of flushing, injecting a highly chlorinated solution into every pipe crevice, allowing it to sit for four to six hours and flushing the pipes again.
“From a technical perspective, by the time we’re done with the disinfectant, the building will be 100 percent safe,” he said.
Water samples are being sent to two separate laboratories and are expected to be returned on Nov. 27 and Dec. 9.
The long-term remediation process will include an evaluation of the plumbing system, which will likely include replacement of hot water heaters with tankless systems and any necessary repairs. The city will be consulting with mechanical engineers for that portion.