The City of Orillia has shut down the cooling tower at Rotary Place as recommended by the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) after test results showed higher than normal levels of legionella bacteria in the tower on Oct. 24.
The Rotary Place cooling tower is being shut down for further cleaning and disinfecting and the SMDHU will conduct another test on Oct. 27. In addition to routine maintenance, all municipally-owned cooling towers were disinfected as of Oct. 22 while the city waited for the results of samples retrieved as part of the SMDHU Legionnaires’ disease investigation. The health unit advises that during the shutdown and cleaning of the tower, the public is safe at or around Rotary Place. It is unknown at this time whether the strain of legionella bacteria found at Rotary Place matches the strain associated with the nine confirmed cases of Legionnaire’s disease in Orillia. The source of the legionella bacteria responsible for the cluster of illnesses has not been identified.
“At this time it is safe for people to attend events and programs at Rotary Place while the building’s water cooling system is being cleaned and disinfected,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, SMDHU Medical Officer of Health.
The Rotary Place cooling tower is part of the refrigeration system required to keep the ice surface in good condition. While it is safe to use the building, the city is lowering the temperature of the building to maintain the ice and therefore cancelling all programming for the weekend. Any further impact on programming will be communicated if necessary.
“We have been working closely with the health unit since the Legionnaire’s disease cluster was identified in Orillia,” said Mayor Steve Clarke. “I want to reiterate the health unit’s message that it is safe for people to continue to use Rotary Place as we carry out further cleaning and disinfecting of the cooling tower.”
The health unit is advising residents that most people exposed to the bacteria do not become ill. However, anyone who experiences headaches, muscle aches, fever, cough or difficulty breathing should seek medical attention. Legionella bacteria is common in natural freshwater environments, according to the health unit, but it can become a health concern in water systems such as cooling towers.
People can develop Legionnaires’ disease by inhaling aerosolized water droplets containing the bacteria, but most people exposed to the bacteria do not become sick. Legionnaires’ disease cannot be contracted by drinking water and it cannot be passed from person to person.
For more information, visit the SMDHU website. Questions and concerns about the investigation can be directed to the health unit at 705-721-7520.