The Maryland Transportation Authority’s administration building at the Interstate 895/Baltimore Harbor Tunnel toll plaza was closed Tuesday while state and Baltimore city health officials investigated for possible sources of Legionella bacteria.
Transportation authority officials closed the building and automated the toll booths after learning Monday evening that two employees were diagnosed with legionellosis disease, a form of bacterial pneumonia commonly referred to as Legionnaires’ disease. In a statement Tuesday night, the agency said both would remain closed to staff Wednesday.
Both employees have received medical treatment, the transportation authority said.
“While there’s no confirmation that the building is the source of the illness, we believe the safety of our employees and visitors to the administration building dictates that we close the facility while tests are conducted,” said Pete Rahn, who is both the transportation authority’s chairman and state transportation secretary.
Cash payment lanes were automated for Tuesday and Wednesday and are operating like cashless toll lanes. That means drivers without E-ZPass transponders are instructed to drive through the plaza without stopping; the state is capturing video of their vehicles and will send them bills for the amount of a cash toll.
Most of the people who work at the administrative building and the toll plaza are on administrative leave; some have been able to work from other sites.
The bacteria is most likely found in freshwater environments and becomes a health concern once it appears in building water systems such as cooling towers and plumbing systems. Most people contract Legionnaires’ disease by drinking or breathing in water contaminated with the bacteria. It’s rare for people to spread the bacteria to one another.
The transportation authority said Tuesday night it would proactively treat water systems at the site. It did not know how long the facility will be closed to workers.
People who are most at risk for getting infected are people over 50 years old, current or former smokers and people with weak immune systems. Symptoms for the disease include high fever, chills, dry cough and shortness of breath.
Last year, in September, the water system at the Eastern Family Resource Center in Rossville was restricted after two employees were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease. Around the same time, there were several cases of Legionnaires’ disease at an apartment complex in Idlewood.
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There were a total of 361 cases of Legionnaires’ disease last year, according to data collected by the Maryland Department of Health.