Air pipes

Legionella found in pipes at Joint Base San Antonio medical barracks, forcing removals

About 150 military and personnel at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, left their barracks last week when bacteria that could cause pneumonia was discovered in the plumbing.

Joint Base San Antonio officials said in a news release Friday that residents of Liberty Barracks, where service members who are patients from the nearby medical center are housed, were moved into the facility after the discovery of the Legionella bacteria during routine water testing.

“Over the past few months, we’ve been fortunate to have far fewer service members needing the care that Liberty Barracks was designed to support,” Brigadier said. Gen. Russell Driggers, chief of Joint Base San Antonio and commander of the 502nd Air Force Base, said in the press release. “A significant portion of the facility is therefore unoccupied. Water from the plumbing in these unoccupied rooms can remain stagnant, providing a breeding ground for bacteria such as Legionella.”

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The base’s behavioral health clinic, which is located at Liberty Barracks, has also been moved until the building is once again deemed safe.

Liberty Barracks, a 216,000 square foot facility that can accommodate nearly 400 patients, opened in 2012designed to provide a place to stay for wounded and injured service members while they receive treatment at base medical facilities.

These residents may also be particularly susceptible to contracting Legionnaires’ disease, a serious type of pneumonia caused by contact with Legionella bacteria. It spreads through microscopic water droplets containing legionella and can be transmitted through drinking water, swimming pools and the cooling towers of air conditioning systems, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Those who smoke, are 50 or older, or have weakened immune systems are most susceptible to contracting the disease. Base officials said in a press release that there were “no known cases of Legionellosis or other Legionella infections among Liberty Barracks residents or personnel.”

This is not the first time Liberty Barracks has detected Legionella. Last year, the building was evacuated after the bacteria was found in the building’s plumbing, according to a news release.

“At that time, the plumbing system was treated with superchlorination and regularly tested,” base officials said in a press release. “These tests revealed a positive result last week.”

Engineers examined the plumbing systems and found that the building’s water heaters were operating normally, officials said in a news release.

News of the discovery of Legionella at Joint Base San Antonio is the latest housing and contamination incident among the services.

In late September, the Navy told Military.com that 10 sailors had health issues that may be linked to a fuel leak that contaminated the water aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz last month.

In August, service members stationed at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, began posting dozens of photos online showing widespread mold stains in hallways and images of thermostats reading between 87 and 90 degrees. due to broken air conditioning. Base officials created a task force in September to resolve the issues.

Also in August, the Army announced that more than 1,700 soldiers from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, would be evacuated after an inspection found 12 buildings to be unlivable due to mold and air conditioning problems.

Liberty Barracks at Joint Base San Antonio will be treated with superchlorination, the same technique used after the base’s positive 2021 Legionella test, to kill bacteria this week, officials said. Seventy-two hours after treatment, the civil engineer and base public health personnel will check the security of the building and take samples for Legionella bacteria and residual chlorine before allowing service members to move back in.

— Thomas Novelly can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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