Disneyland Denies Misting Tower as Source of Legionnaires' Outbreak, Health Official Says Otherwise

Disneyland officials dispute the source of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak linked to the theme park in 2017, but the probable source is one of the park’s mist-infused cooling towers that refresh visitors, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Twenty-two cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported near the theme park last year.

The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Disneyland $33,000 last March for failing to properly clean cooling equipment linked to the outbreak and other related violations. Disneyland is appealing the citation.

Disneyland spokeswoman Suzi Brown denied the theme park’s role in the outbreak in a statement released earlier this year.

“We strongly object to Cal-OSHA’s allegation that our cooling towers caused any illness since the source of the outbreak has never been scientifically determined,” said Brown.

Testifying before a Cal-OSHA appeals board judge Tuesday, epidemiologist Dr. Matthew Zahn of the Orange County Health Care Agency said even though the agency has not officially pin-pointed all the outbreaks of the disease to Disneyland, cooling towers are the most common source of Legionnaires.

He said more testing is necessary to confirm the source, yet one Disneyland cooling tower showed very high levels of Legionella bacteria when people reported the illness last year.

After the tower was sanitized, the infections seem to cease, he added.

“Most likely those cases were related to a common exposure,” Zahn said. “Cooling tower No. 4 was the most likely source of exposure.”

County tests last year determined high levels of Legionella bacteria in two Disneyland cooling towers. The towers are a form of air-conditioning that releases mist.

The bacteria can spread contaminated droplets in the park, said Zahn.

Disneyland officials have denied a report of at least three infected people, who Zahn said were determined to be in Anaheim nursing homes and not at the theme park. The Los Angeles Times reported that one of the three died.

Zahn said since Legionella bacteria-infected water can spread two-to-four miles, the nursing home patients were probably infected by the Disneyland source.

Casteel, associate safety engineer with the Department of Industrial Relations, testified that Disneyland did not follow proper disinfecting guidelines on the cooling towers, creating a breeding ground for bacteria to grow and spread within the park.

Cal-OSHA’s investigation concerns only the three Disneyland employees infected, but does not include 19 infection non-employees, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Christopher Merrill, Cal-OSHA administrative law judge, plans to rule on the case within 60 days.

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