MARIETTA — Legionella, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, has been found at Lockheed Martin’s Marietta facility, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

The bacteria was found during a state investigation initiated after four Lockheed employees were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease earlier this year.

“Legionella was found in water in certain locations on the Lockheed Martin campus,” said Nancy Nydam, spokesperson for the state health department. “The Georgia Department of Public Health has recommended testing and treating water that is positive for Legionella. DPH has also recommended working with Legionella experts that can provide recommendations specific to each facility.”

In July, Lockheed sent an internal memo to employees at the Marietta plant acknowledging the confirmed cases of employees with Legionnaires’ disease. In that memo, the company told employees that initial expert testing found no indications that the employees contracted the disease at work.  

Lockheed employees have been sent a memo notifying them about the new findings, said Rob Fuller, Lockheed’s communication senior manager. According to Fuller, the four Lockheed employees who contracted the disease have all recovered.

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by the Legionella bacterium, which gets its name from a 1976 outbreak that occurred when several people attending a convention of the American Legion in Philadelphia were diagnosed with a new type of lung infection or pneumonia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, people get the disease when they inhale mist or water vapor contaminated with the bacterium. The bacterium occurs most commonly in buildings with complex water systems — such as hotels and resorts, long-term care facilities, hospitals, and cruise ships — and is spread through infected water in showers, hot tubs, air-conditioning systems and decorative fountains.

Legionnaires’ disease is fatal in about 10 percent of people diagnosed with the illness, the CDC reports.

After the four Lockheed employees were confirmed to have contracted Legionnaires’ disease, the company began testing its water supply.

“We have increased testing of our water to ensure it is safe and implemented the appropriate protocols in our facilities in accordance with public health-recommended guidelines,” Fuller said in a statement Monday.

According to Fuller, those protocols include:

♦ Superheating the company’s hot water

♦ Ensuring chlorine is at the appropriate levels in the water system

♦ Cleaning or replacing aerators on sinks as appropriate

♦ Regular flushing of the water system

“We continue to work closely with the Georgia Public Health Service and the Cobb-Douglas County Health Department to monitor our facilities and ensure a safe and healthy environment for our employees,” Fuller said.

Although Lockheed hired a private company to test its water supply, the state and county health departments are working with Lockheed to investigate the potential outbreak. 

“During an investigation, DPH works with the facility to assess potential sources of contaminated water and to implement measures to eliminate Legionella and prevent future growth of Legionella according to guidance established by the CDC,” Nydam said. “DPH also recommends facilities work with Legionella experts that can provide recommendations specific to each facility.”

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