Speed Reads

flint water crisis

Flint's water crisis was accompanied by undisclosed Legionnaires' outbreak

In the summer of 2014, as Flint, Michigan, was drinking contaminated water, an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease started spreading through the area, sickening at least 87 people and killing nine between June 2014 and October 2015. Michigan health officials did not tell Flint residents about the outbreak until last month, not even in a warning to health providers, and county and state emails show a pattern similar to the silence and inertia that marked the water crisis, The New York Times reports.

Legionnaire's disease is an extreme form of pneumonia caused by a bacteria that can multiply in water systems, and while county officials suggested a link between the outbreak and the switch to Flint River water as early as October 2014, no connection can be conclusively drawn because samples weren't collected from ill residents. Jane Stout, an expert on the disease at the University of Pittsburgh, told The Times she believes that the combination of corrosion in the city pipes and summer heat allowed the Legionella bacteria to flourish in the city's water supply, especially in building distribution systems.

"What gets me is how fast the state has just denied — 'We can’t prove it's the water,'" said Tim Monahan, who survived the outbreak in Flint. "I think they're so afraid of tying nine deaths to this. The whole thing is just such a ridiculous tragedy."