Legionella found in Weber air chiller

Maxwell Silverstein, Contributing Writer

Though the phrase “on Oct. 3” stirs fond memories from the plot of Mean Girls, it takes a slightly different tone in Weber Middle School.  On this day, the district was notified that Legionella bacteria was found in the Weber air chiller.

Legionella bacteria thrive in water, so air chillers present an ideal environment for growth because of their utilization of water.  Contrary to their purpose, these air chillers have the potential to make people hot under the collar.

“The bacteria are really dangerous, and I was scared of getting sick,” said Weber student Sadie Brett-Chin.

Brett-Chin’s opinion comes from knowledge on the deadly nature of Legionella bacteria.  Legionella bacteria can cause Legionnaires’ disease through transmission in water or exposure to moisture.  Legionnaires’ is a type of walking pneumonia, the symptoms of which are milder but harder to treat, and late treatment can prove fatal.  The next day, however, brought about  the calming of an apparent frenzy.

On Oct. 4, Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Mooney, Schreiber Principal Mr. Ira Pernick, and Weber Principal Mr. Christopher Shields released statements to students and staff describing the situation.  The statements each explained that the chiller was a closed-loop system. Closed-loop systems allow no moisture or water to escape from the cooling unit. Air chillers all run cold water through coils that can then absorb heat from the surrounding air.  The water stays within these coils; therefore, the bacteria cannot escape and get anyone sick.

Mr. Shields further cited that the presence of Legionella was “extremely low.”

The presence of Legionella bacteria is based on a three-tier scale of measurement. Weber’s air chiller scored a 20, making it a very low Tier II (the Tier I range was 1-10, the Tier II range was 11-1,000, and the Tier III range was 1,000+).  This means that the bacteria had negligible chances of spreading throughout the school, but to best protect the district’s students and staff, the air chillers were thoroughly disinfected on Oct. 4.

“Please be assured that we have taken an overabundance of caution and that the school is safe for students and staff to return to tomorrow,” said Dr. Mooney.

This put the students, staff, and parents at ease. The students returned to Weber on Monday, Oct. 5 as on any other Monday, an assuring return to normalcy.

“I am confident that the school took all of the appropriate measures to get rid of all of the bacteria and feel very safe at school,” said Weber student Trey McDermott.

Many students were so confident with the cleaning that the entire situation fell to the backdrop of their busy and exciting tween years.

Fortunately, no Schreiber students had to deal with the Legionella bacteria crisis, as Schreiber does not have an air chiller; its air conditioning unit does not use water.

Mr. Pernick highlighted this point in an email sent to parents and students.

The administration aptly handled the touchy situation, but there were also many who lost faith in the administration after the presence of Legionella was allowed in the school.  Students from other districts were especially critical of the situation, as Weber was the only school in Nassau County to be affected by Legionella. However, there were six other schools in Suffolk County which were affected by a similar situation.

“The Manhasset Middle School administration allows a lot of bad things, but it absolutely does not allow Legionella,” said Manhasset Middle School student Paul Petrakis.

Interestingly, some Schreiber students were even more depreciative of the presence of Legionella, but naysayers can often bring points to the discussion that were overlooked.

“It’s stupid,” said senior Philip Verdirame.

The discussion of Legionella quickly faded from relevancy, a possible indicator of how well the situation was handled.  The legionella bacteria apparently posed no real risk to staff or students and were quickly taken care of.

Thanks to the Oct. 4 cleaning, Weber Middle School students were barely affected by the issue.