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‘Everybody’s scared’ – family of UAW high rise residents fear for safety of loved ones during Legionnaire’s outbreak

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PEKIN (WEEK) - One person has died and at least one other person contracted Legionnaire's Disease at the UAW Senior Citizen Center in Pekin. Those cases came in the last month and are part of 7 confirmed cases under investigation in Tazewell County by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Family members of residents spoke with 25 News confidentially, for fear of retaliation or repercussions for their loved ones. "Everybody's scared. How many more people are going to die until we get some honesty?" asked one concerned family member.

The families are also worried about this extremely dangerous health threat.The CDC says one in ten people who contract Legionnaire's Disease will die.

"There's old people that have not had a shower in two and a half weeks," said a family member.  They've restricted showers and use of tap water in things like c-pap machines and humidifiers because the bacteria is spread through hot water droplets in a mist or vapor.

Manager Donald Bly said they are installing new filtered shower heads starting Wednesday at a cost of about $50,000. "That's just putting a bandaid on the problem. We still need to put a filtration system that's connected to the water system that will filter the water as it's being brought in the building."

Legionnaire's Disease is developed after exposure to Legionella bacteria through inhalation. The bacteria is known to grow in pipes and plumbing in buildings with large water systems like hotels, apartment buildings, and other buildings according to the CDC. It is spread through hot water droplets in steam, mist, and vapor that can be easily inhaled. Places like showers, hot tubs, humidifiers, and CPAP machines are often associated with spreading the bacteria.

Donald Bly, manager at the UAW building in Pekin, said Tuesday they've been restricting water use for the last two weeks while they work with the IDPH to resolve the issue.

But the water provider for the City of Pekin, maintains Legionella is not an issue with the water supply itself, but more often the plumbing of a building. "Once the water enters a private customers plumbing system, deterioration in water quality can occur without proper maintenance," explained Karen Cotton, spokesperson for Illinois American Water.
She said the water they provide is above any federal and state water standards.

Meanwhile, a permanent fix for the building could take 60 to 90 days. "It's going to be awhile and it's a huge cost but the safety and well-being of our residents is what's important," explained Bly.

But family members are concerned now, since the entire building is made up of elderly who are more susceptible.

"They're going 'whats going on?' they don't have a clue. They can't get answers," said one family member.

The Illinois Department of Public Health says they are investigating 7 cases of Legionnaire's in Tazewell County, which includes Pekin. But it's unclear if any more than two have been traced back to the UAW high rise.

Kyle Beachy

Kyle Beachy is a Multimedia Journalist for 25 News and Heart of Illinois. Born and raised in Kokomo, Indiana, he attended Indiana Wesleyan University where he studied Education and played baseball. He comes to us from Columbus, Ohio where he received a Master’s Degree from The Ohio State University.

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