|Three Elgin School District U46 buildings were closed Wednesday after air testing revealed higher than normal levels of Legionella bacteria, but no one is known to have become sick.|
Elgin School District U46 officials will meet with the community during Sunday forums before students head back to classes Monday in schools that were closed after tests detected high levels of the bacteria the causes Legionnaires' disease.
Dr. Robert Tiballi, an Elgin-based infectious disease specialist and chair of infection control at Advocate Sherman Hospital, will join U46 CEO Tony Sanders and other district staffers at 1 p.m. Sunday at Larkin High School, 1475 Larkin Ave., Elgin, and 3 p.m. Sunday at Eastview Middle School, 321 N. Oak Ave., Bartlett, to discuss the incident with parents and community members and answer any questions.
"We're looking forward to reopening school at these three sites on Monday, and are confident that we have done everything possible to ensure a safe environment," Sanders said Friday. "I want to thank everyone who has helped us respond to this issue and protect our students and staff."
Officials said Friday that the disinfecting process to remove the Legionella bacteria was almost complete.
Larkin High School in Elgin, Eastview Middle School in Bartlett and the building in downtown Elgin that houses the Gifford Street/Central alternative schools and the district's central offices were closed abruptly on Wednesday morning after the results of tests on the air conditioning cooling water arrived. The tests found that when water samples were taken on Sept. 8 and 9 the samples from those three buildings had more than what is considered a safe level of the bacteria that causes Legionnaires' disease .
The closings had been extended through Thursday and Friday as the district hired a contractor to disinfect the cooling tower at the three sites and at 16 other schools that have similar systems.
Asked whether students will have to make up the lost days in school, Sanders said that "we are working with the Regional Office of Education regarding the missed days and will inform students and families next week."
He said the cost of all this to U46, including the fee for the equipment disinfecting and the possible loss of state aid, also remains unknown.
"At this time we do not have the costs compiled. Our focus has been on getting the cooling towers sanitized and ready for school," he said.
Sanders said the district has taken the following steps to rid the system of this bacteria strain:
A "shock" of all 19 cooling towers system comprised of draining the towers and flushing them with four times the recommended level of cleaning/disinfecting agents on Wednesday and Thursday.
Descaling, or the removal of any hard-water deposits on the three cooling towers, on Friday.
An additional two sanitizing "shocks" were scheduled at each of the three towers for Saturday. He noted the water in the outdoor cooling system is separate from the building's plumbing system; it is not part of the drinking water in the schools.
According to a U46 press release, Tiballi said the risk of students or staff developing illness from exposure to Legionella bacteria is low. Exposures only occur when aerosolized water particles containing the bacteria are directly inhaled.
"I am confident that the steps taken by the district have reduced what was previously a very low risk of exposure to a level that approaches zero risk of exposure or infection," said Tiballi. "The bacteria is most problematic for people with severe underlying immune suppression, advanced lung disease or those who have a long history of smoking."
U46 officials said that in September each year the district checks the 19 cooling towers for operation and efficiency purposes, removing any algae and generally ensuring the towers are working properly.
This year, based on a new industry standard, the district added a new piece — testing the water in these outdoor cooling towers for Legionella bacteria based on a June 2015 recommendation from the refrigeration industry's primary professional association, ASHRAE, The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.
Officials said the district will take measures to prevent such an incident from recurring. Plans are set to test for the bacteria before classes start next fall and to increase testing and sanitizing procedures at the 19 towers throughout the school year.