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Legionella bacteria not found in tests at Washington County mall

| Saturday, May 25, 2013, 12:35 a.m.

Two water tests at Washington Crown Center mall in North Franklin detected no Legionella after the bacteria appeared in a Pittsburgh VA outpatient clinic there, Pennsylvania American Water reported Friday.

The Hershey-based water company took samples on May 17 at the meter that feeds the mall and confirmed “everything was negative,” Pennsylvania American spokeswoman Josephine Posti said.

Low levels of the waterborne Legionella at the outpatient clinic, which can lead to sometimes deadly Legionnaires' disease, prompted the tests. The VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System and Cincinnati-based Sterling Medical Corp., the company contracted to run the clinic, announced the Legionella discovery on May 16.

Sterling since has installed a system to superheat the water and purge Legionella, which can cause Legionnaires' disease when inhaled by people with weakened immune systems.

VA spokesman David Cowgill said no patients at the clinic are known to have tested positive for Legionnaires', though a review of patient records is continuing.

It remained uncertain Friday whether Legionella bacteria were in other parts of the mall. Posti said it's up to mall management to test internal plumbing at the property for the naturally occurring bacteria. Mall representatives could not be reached Friday for comment.

“The (Legionella) tests we did were to verify there were no issues with the water distribution system” that supplies water from Pennsylvania American lines into the mall, Posti said.

She said the water company's routine testing for fecal coliform bacteria and chlorine levels inside the mall also showed no problems.

As many as 21 veterans contracted Legionnaires' disease at Pittsburgh VA campuses in Oakland and O'Hara during an outbreak from February 2011 to November 2012. Five of them died.

Microbiology and medical experts agreed the exposure risk was slight at the outpatient clinic in North Franklin, where Sterling found Legionella at a fraction of levels that trigger alarm under federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards. Clinic officials don't know of anyone sickened by the water there, said Sterling Vice President Brandon Blatt.

“No known illnesses whatsoever,” Blatt said Friday. He said the clinic has had no Legionella problems since installing its water-treatment system May 17.

Adam Smeltz is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676 or asmeltz@tribweb.com.

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