Pittsburgh prison knew about contaminated water months before medical director died from Legionnaires'

On Aug. 9, Joseph Mollura, MD, the 60-year-old medical director for State Correctional Institution – Pittsburgh, died from complications related to pneumonia. The condition was likely spurred by a Legionella bacterial infection. Three months prior to Dr. Mollura's death, the bacteria was detected in one of the prison's cooling towers. Employees weren't notified about the contamination issue until Sept. 1, according to a report Trib Live.

The news agency filed a Right-to-Know legal request and obtained records on the case from the Department of Corrections. Documents from May 12 indicated samples from the No. 1 water cooling tower, which served the prison's medical department, tested positive for 430 colony forming units per milliliter of Legionella bacteria. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration advises any cooling tower water with a concentration of 100 cfu/ml or more undergo a cleaning and biocide treatment.

While documents from Aug. 12 report the contaminated cooling tower was cleaned and decontaminated, Robert McSurdy, chief of safety and environmental protection with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, contradicted this claim in an email on Sept. 1.

"The original report of the cooling tower being drained and cleaned was inaccurate," McSurdy wrote, according to Trib Live.

The department declined to comment on the documents obtained by Trib Live. Dr. Mollura's family has retained a lawyer to investigate the matter.

Legionnaires' disease is a type of pneumonia caused by the Legionella bacteria. It can be contracted by inhaling mist from contaminated water sources such as air-conditioning facilities, steam rooms, plumbing systems and cooling towers. It is not spread by person-to-person contact or by drinking water.

To learn more about Legionnaires' disease, click here.

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