Poly-Seal Corp. closed half of its Baltimore injection molding plant Oct. 6, after an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease killed one worker and made eight others sick.
Tests confirmed three cases of legionellosis among nine employees at the plant who contracted respiratory illnesses recently, including six people who had pneumonia, according to a statement from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Investigations by the Baltimore-based company and the health department continue and any conclusion is ``somewhat guesswork,'' but the examination is focusing on a new water mister the company recently installed, said Levy Rabinowitz, a consultant on crisis management acting as Poly-Seal spokesman.
Legionnaires' disease is transmitted by water, typically droplets.
The east wing of the plant has been shut down because all of the illness hit employees in one section of that wing, Rabinowitz said. The west wing remains open, he said.
Poly-Seal, which has about 75 presses and makes closures at the Baltimore facility, is not sure when the east section will open, he said.
``The company made a decision this morning that rather than go for an early opening, they would wait to make sure that the facility is completely secure and have not just the state's go-ahead to reopen,'' Rabinowitz said Oct. 8. ``Certainly it believes it has taken every step as quickly as possible to get at identifying and remediating the problem.''
The employee died from pneumonia Oct. 1. The company's human resources department noticed five or six employees calling in sick with flu-like symptoms Oct. 6, when managers first suspected they had a more serious problem, Rabinowitz said.
The state health department was called in during the afternoon of Oct. 6, said Tori Leonard, spokeswoman for the health department.
Leonard said she did not know how long it would take to complete the investigation. The company's contractors are inspecting the air conditioning and water systems and making sure they are properly maintained, the health department statement said. Results from water tests will be available in eight to 12 days, Rabinowitz said.
The company identified the employee who died as Joenell Fisher. An obituary in the Baltimore Sun said she was 51 and was a locally famous jazz singer.
Four of the employees were hospitalized, including Fisher. The other three have been released, Leonard said.
The severity of Legionnaires' disease ranges from very mild symptoms to severe pneumonia that can be fatal, Leonard said. Symptoms include muscle aches, diarrhea, fatigue and high fever.
The disease is caused by bacteria that typically are found in warm, stagnant water in places like air-conditioner cooling towers, showers, humidifiers and ponds, Leonard said. It is not spread by person-to-person contact, she said.