Residents living in fear over Legionnaires’ disease outbreak

Allotment owner Lawrence Kaye
Allotment owner Lawrence Kaye

RESIDENTS living in the shadow of a factory at the centre of a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak say they are living in fear as a health probe into the cause of the infection continues.

Three workers at Faltec Europe Limited have contracted the potentially fatal bug in the last seven months – but fresh concerns were sparked after it was announced a resident living near the car component business is suspected of having contracted the potentially fatal lung disease.

Investigations are ongoing at Faltec.

Investigations are ongoing at Faltec.

The three workers – who were confirmed to have contracted the illness between October of last year and this month – are recovering at home after stays in hospital.

The resident suspected to have fallen ill with Legionnaires’ disease – which can thrive in central heating and air conditioning systems – has also been discharged from hospital.

The company, which employs over 460 workers at Boldon Business Park, is subject to an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Public Health England and South Tyneside Council’s environmental health team.

The disease does not spread from person to person, but from contaminated water droplets.

Laurence Kaye, an allotment holder at East View allotment plot, which overlooks the factory, says the thought of an airborne disease on the doorstep is ‘frightening’.

The 72-year-old said: “If Legionnaires’ disease is at the factory and is airborne, it can be blown in the wind in all directions. It is frightening.”

One resident in Lawson Court, near the factory, said: “You are fearful when you hear about this. We have grandkids who come along and play in the back garden and it is a worry.

“You just want the situation to be sorted out as soon as possible.”

Another neighbour added: “We haven’t been told a thing about it. All we know is from what we have read in the Gazette.

“It is scary. We haven’t received any information from the factory or from health officials.”

Another nearby resident added: “When you hear that a neighbour may have contracted the condition, that does send alarm bells ringing.

“There was an outbreak in Sunderland a few years ago so it is not as rare as you might think.”

Joanne Bell, a Boldon Colliery ward councillor, added: “We are obviously very concerned. We are being kept up to date with developments by the council’s environmental health team. It is something everyone is very, very concerned about.

“This is something that has been going on since last October. We are aware that controls have now been put in place but there could be other cases that haven’t been detected yet due to the incubation period of the disease.”

A Faltec spokesman said: “In response to the ongoing investigation into cases of Legionnaires’ disease associated with our site in Boldon, South Tyneside, where a fourth (suspected) case has been identified, we have already implemented improvements in the management of our water-safety systems.

“We continue to liaise with the HSE, Public Health England (PHE) and the local authority to implement all recommendations, and to resolve the problem as quickly as possible.

“We are keen to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our workforce, and for the local community. We are very concerned to hear about a suspected fourth case of Legionnaire’s disease in the nearby area, and are monitoring the situation closely.

“We wish a speedy recovery to all those affected by the disease.

“The management team is taking this matter very seriously and it is a top priority, as shown in the significant investment made in health and safety programmes.”

What is Legionnaires’ disease?

Legionnaires’ disease is an uncommon form of pneumonia caused by breathing in air containing legionella bacteria in droplets of water.

These bacteria live naturally in water sources, but they can pose a risk to humans in air-conditioning systems, showers and spa pools.

Legionnaires’ disease does not spread from person to person and can only be contracted from the source of the contaminated water.

Groups most at risk are smokers over the age of 50 and people with weak immune systems.

Symptoms begin five to six days after breathing in bacteria, and include fever, headache and muscle aches.

Without early treatment, the disease can progress to severe illness, kidney failure and even death.

The disease is named because the organism was first isolated, in 1978, after a group of US ex-servicemen contracted the disease at an American Legion conference in Pennsylvania