3 schools closed by Legionella bacteria

ELGIN, Ill. (WLS) -- Students were sent home from three schools in the northwest suburbs after Legionella bacteria were found in the cooling systems.

"Our annual air quality testing of school cooling towers found higher than normal levels of Legionella bacteria at Eastview Middle, Larkin High, and at the Central Office/Gifford Street High school programs. I made the decision to close these buildings immediately," Tony Sanders, CEO, School District U-46, posted on the district Facebook page. Crews are working to clean the towers, he said.

All three schools will remain closed for cleaning on Thursday, U-46 officials announced late Wednesday. They did not say when they expect the schools to reopen.

The school got the results of the routine tests Wednesday morning, prompting an early dismissal for 3,000 students in Elgin Area School District U46. Three buildings were evacuated due to the high levels of Legionella bacteria: Larkin High School, Eastview Middle and the Central Office.

"The opportunity for that to vaporize and get into the air where a student of staff member could breathe it is very slim. So what we did today was just a precaution," Sanders said.

There are no reports of anyone in the area becoming ill.

Larkin High School had 940 parts per million of Legionella in its cooling tower; Eastview Middle School and Central Office, which has alternative programs, had more than 1,000 parts per million. Sanders said the bacterium was contained.

"According to the OSHA website, a thousand or more parts per million was cause for taking urgent action. So that's what we did," Sanders said. He did not say when the schools would reopen.

Students were bused to other schools to wait for parents, who were notified of the situation. Yolanda Williams said she got a voicemail from the school.

"I feel that they should have done all this testing before school started to eliminate any of this leaving early. Because I believe in education. I believe the children should be at school, getting an education," Yolanda Williams said.

Legionella bacteria can cause Legionnaires' disease, symptoms of which can include cough, shortness of breath, high fever, muscle aches and headaches, as well as Pontiac fever, a more mild form of the illness.

Legionella bacteria is transmitted through water when people breathe in a mist or vapor containing the bacteria, according to the CDC. It is not spread from person to person.

Most people who are exposed to the bacteria do not become ill, according to the CDC.
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