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Legionella found in water at 4 of 6 Fox Chapel schools; students return to class Monday

FOX CHAPEL, Pa. — Elevated levels of the bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease were found in the water at four of six schools in Fox Chapel, district officials said Friday.

Classes in the district resume on Monday. The district is using a hybrid plan involving in school and online learning.

According to a notice sent to parents, district officials tested the water on Aug. 13 in all the schools because the buildings had been closed for longer than usual. The elevated levels of Legionella bacteria were found at Fairview, Kerr and O’Hara Elementary schools, as well as at Fox Chapel Area High School.

Students and staff can bring their own water from home and each building will have a supply of bottled water.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people can get sick when they breathe in mist or accidentally swallow water containing Legionella bacteria. The bacteria cause a severe pneumonia or lung infection. They are found naturally in freshwater environments like lakes and streams, but can also grow when buildings sit dormant for an extended period.

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District officials said as soon as they learned of the testing results, they contacted the Allegheny County Health Department.

The water in all six schools and in the field house will be heated to 160 degrees. The water system in each building will also be drained through all outlets, faucets and spigots, refilled and then flushed again. Ice machines and eye washing stations will be cleaned as well.

Derek Coatney has a child starting kindergarten this week and trusts the district has a handle on the situation.

“I mean, these things happen with old buildings or buildings that aren’t used often. So, I mean, we trust the experts that they flushed the system this weekend and got calls and, again, plenty of communication. So, again, I think they’re doing everything they can and I think they got precautions in place for water boils, things like that. So, still sending him and glad they caught it early,” Coatney said.

Follow-up testing will be done Monday morning and samples will be taken straight to the lab. School leaders said they estimate it will take 3-10 days to get the results back.

Disease officials with the ACHD stressed the water is safe for students and staff to use for hand-washing, using the restroom and continuing food operations. Nobody will be permitted to drink the water until test results come back showing that it is safe.

Is there an issue at your child’s school that you’d like us to investigate? Contact our investigators by emailing or calling (412) 237-4963.