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on Legionnaires’ disease

GRS worker’s death blamed
on Legionnaires’ disease

The action is accompanied by two others also filed in state Supreme Court this week by two GRS workers who suffered non-fatal bouts of the disease.
GRS is not named in the suits.
Meanwhile, concern among workers at the John Street facility is high and several other staffers are weighing similar actions, said Bernard Scoppo, shop chair-man of the International Union of Electrical Workers Local 323.
Company officials declined to speak about the actions.
Based in Rochester, GRS is a 675-employee manufacturing operation that makes sophisticated switching and control equipment for railways and rapid-transit systems. It was acquired in 1991 by SASIB SpA of Bologna, Italy.
The complaints seek damages from the Sear-Brown Group Inc., Monroe Piping & Sheet Metal Inc., Edgewater Construction Co. Inc. and Powers Associates Inc.–the firms that designed, installed and oversaw installation of the allegedly faulty system.
Representatives of each of the firms also declined to comment.
St. Louis-based Powers Associates designed the GRS plant. Sear-Brown was mechanical engineer on the project. Edgewater was general contractor and Monroe Piping installed the building’s HVAC system, the court filings state.
Sear-Brown and Monroe Piping are Rochester-area firms. Edgewater is based in Syracuse.
The suits together seek $66 million–$31 million for the August 1993 death of Joseph Massey and $17 million and $18 million, respectively, for permanent damage allegedly suffered by Janet Cylear-Ebah and Ronald Sykes.
All three workers contracted Legion-naires’ disease within six months of starting work at the new facility in January 1993, said Albert Parisi, an attorney in the office of Vincent Buzard who filed the suits on behalf of Cylear-Ebah, Sykes and Massey’s widow.
Massey was 53 when he died in August 1993, court papers state.
Cylear-Ebah and Sykes continue to work at the facility, but with diminished capacity, Parisi said.
Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia spread by bacteria that commonly proliferate in water systems and cooling towers of large buildings. The disease was first described after it caused the deaths of a number of U.S. Army veterans attending a convention at a Philadelphia hotel in the 1980s.
Research papers published by the American Society for Microbiology in a 1993 compendium on the Legionella bacterium describe the organism as common in natural waterways and difficult to detect in man-made water systems. Le-gionella often colonizes HVAC cooling towers, but risks can be controlled by taking pains to keep infected waters from escaping the system, one paper states.
GRS officials have been close-mouthed with the IUE on whether they consider the John Street plant to have a Legionnaires’ problem, Scoppo said.
Monroe Piping appears to have done a major overhaul of the building’s HVAC system over the past 12 months, but company management has declined to speak to him concerning the repairs, he said.
Edward Pelta, GRS assistant secretary, declined to say whether such repairs had been done.
Scoppo believes the incidence of pneumonia and other upper-respiratory problems to be markedly higher at the facility than was the case at GRS’ former West Avenue plant.
In talks with the union, Scoppo said, company officials have maintained such infections merely appeared more prevalent because workers are concentrated in a smaller area and their illnesses thus are more noticeable. He said such assurances have done nothing to allay workers’ fears.
Scoppo could not supply figures on how many workers have suffered respiratory problems at either facility.
The Monroe County Department of Health has looked into the matter, Scoppo said, adding that he has spoken to county Health Director Andrew Doniger.
However, he said, Doniger did not make it clear to him what level of investigation the department had done or what conclusions it had reached.
Doniger declined to comment this week.
Health Department spokesman John Ricci confirmed the department had examined the matter, but declined to say whether GRS workers’ risk of infection is higher than normal.

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