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Disneyland cooling tower was likely source of all 22 Legionnaires' cases, official testifies

Soumya Karlamangla, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Earlier this year, Disneyland spokeswoman Suzi Brown said in a statement: "We strongly object to Cal-OSHA's allegation that our cooling towers caused any illness, since the source of the outbreak has never been scientifically determined."

In March, Cal-OSHA cited and fined Disneyland $33,000 for failing to properly clean cooling equipment linked to the outbreak and other related violations.

The agency investigates only hazards that endanger workers, so its findings focus on how three Disneyland employees were infected and does not address the 19 non-employees sickened.

Disneyland is appealing the citation at a two-day hearing in West Covina that began Tuesday. Christopher Merrill, the Cal-OSHA administrative law judge, will rule within 60 days.

Zahn was a witness called by lawyers for Cal-OSHA. Testimony by the agency's witnesses will continue Wednesday. Disneyland is expected not to call any witnesses, Merrill said.

Cal-OSHA lawyers also called Christopher Casteel, who conducted the investigation into Disneyland's violations.

Casteel, associate safety engineer with the agency's Department of Industrial Relations, said cleaning records showed that Disneyland did not follow proper guidelines to disinfect its cooling towers, thereby allowing high levels of bacteria to grow in the towers and spread in the park.

Orange County health officials never formally identified the cooling towers as the source of the outbreak, and Disneyland officials have said that the test results don't definitively prove that the towers were to blame.

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Disneyland's cooling towers have been free of Legionella since November 2017, and there is currently no risk to the public, Orange County health officials said.

Meanwhile, a young girl who was diagnosed with Legionnaires' after visiting Disneyland last fall filed a suit against the theme park last week in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The girl went to the theme park in mid-October last year to celebrate her mother's birthday and two weeks later developed a persistent cough, according to the lawsuit.

"The facts don't support these claims and the lawsuit has no merit," Disney's Brown said Tuesday.

The girl visited the theme park on Oct. 13, 2017, but the last person who developed Legionnaires' as part of this outbreak visited the park on Oct. 3, according to Zahn's testimony Tuesday.

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