NewsLocal News


County: Legionnaires’ disease linked to 7 deaths in San Diego this year

Union concerned about employees in state building
Legionnaires Disease
Posted at 4:58 PM, Jun 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-05 21:13:06-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Seven people who got infected with Legionella bacteria have died so far this year, according to new numbers provided by the county to ABC 10News.

And the union representing employees in the state building in Mission Valley is raising alarm bells about staffer safety after the site recently reopened following the remediation of contaminated areas.

“They were forced to go to work even though they know that there’s a problem and the custodians were forced to go to work,” said Eric Murray, a representative for SEIU Local 1000.

Murray said the union learned last Friday that a custodian’s closet and restrooms on the second floor of the state building tested positive for the bacteria.

He says that even though the building was reopened to the public on April 24, parts of it have been closed internally and staff still must go to work.

"You need to protect these employees. You need to make them feel safe,” said Murray.

Beloved San Diego State professor dies of Legionella pneumonia
San Diego State professor Michael Buno became sick in February after developing Legionella pneumonia and later died.

The Department of General Services said stringent cleaning, chemical flushing, and new medical-grade filters on water faucets inside the building have made it safe to occupy.

When it got test results in March showing low levels of contamination, a consultant recommended shutting down parts, but not all of the building, said Monica Hassan, deputy director of public affairs for the department.

“DGS has not closed down the building or any portion of the building since we reopened. Tenant departments retain discretion over the degree to which they require their staff report to work in the building,” she said.

41 cases, 13 ICU admissions

Legionella is often found in water systems, hot tubs, faucets, and cooling towers. People can get sick when they breathe in droplets of the bacteria, which leads to Legionnaires’ disease.

County spokesperson Fernanda Lopez Halvorson said there have been a total of 41 Legionella cases in 2023 with 13 people being sent to the ICU and seven deaths. Last year there were a record 82 cases reported in the county.

She says in April, 12 new cases were reported alone and added there is often lag time in case reporting when providing the latest death toll.

Ray Trueblood-Konz is a personal injury attorney who represents clients who’ve been sick with Legionnaires’ disease.

His law firm has posted an article on its website about the San Diego cases.

Trueblood-Konz encourages building owners to educate themselves about Legionella and develop water management plans to reduce their legal liability.

“If you don’t know about Legionella and you don’t know how to mitigate it, you gotta learn. You can’t just shrug your shoulders and ignore the issue.”

He said because Legionnaires’ disease can be fatal and life-changing for some who survive, he’s seen plaintiffs awarded tens of millions in damages.

“Their sense of security has been robbed by their Legionellosis. So often for years afterward, if not permanently they’re afraid to go anywhere near a hot tub, they’re afraid to step in the shower.”