Legionnaires' case upsets workers

Howard school officials have moved employees

February 20, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

One confirmed case of Legionnaires' disease and suspicions of another have frightened Howard County school employees who work in a former Columbia elementary school building.

Dr. Penny Borenstein, the county health officer, said Friday that one confirmed case involving Legionella pneumophila occurred in October. She said that a second person with respiratory symptoms hasn't been given a positive diagnosis and that test results don't point to Legionnaires'. Health officials haven't pinpointed any source for the disease, she said.

Because the two women who became ill work side by side, said Joe Staub, president of the Howard County Education Association, his union has been requesting thorough testing of the Faulkner Ridge Center, which was built in 1969. The women are in a section with nine people who develop programs for children with visual impairments.

School spokeswoman Patti Caplan said school officials understand the fear.

"We are certainly aware of how frightening that can be. The best way to counteract fears that people have is to give them accurate information," Caplan said.

She said the women's co-workers have been moved to another room in the building. School officials plan a meeting for 11 a.m. Tuesday at Faulkner Ridge to discuss the situation with workers.

Caplan said an inspection of the structure revealed "absolutely nothing in that building ... that would be a probable source" of Legionnaires', which is spread by inhaling contaminated particles of water.

The disease is not contagious, the Maryland Department of Health said.

Still, employees are afraid, Staub said, and some have refused to enter the room where the two women worked, which still contains office equipment.

"Certainly, we are concerned. You don't put people in an unsafe work environment. The system needs to err on the side of caution," he said.

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