Legionella Found in Pipes at Medical Barracks at Joint Base San Antonio, Forcing Relocations

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The Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Visitor Control Center is located at the entrance to the location's main gate.
The Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Visitor Control Center is located at the entrance to the location's main gate. (Joel Martinez/U.S. Air Force photo)

About 150 service members and staff at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, cleared out of their barracks this past week when a bacteria that can cause pneumonia was found in the plumbing. 

Officials at Joint Base San Antonio said in a press release Friday that residents at the Liberty Barracks, where service members who are patients at the nearby medical center are housed, have been relocated across the installation after Legionella bacteria was discovered during routine water testing.

"As of the last few months, we have been fortunate to have significantly fewer service members needing the care that Liberty Barracks was designed to support," Brig. Gen. Russell Driggers, head of Joint Base San Antonio and 502nd Air Base wing commander, said in the press release. "A significant portion of the facility, therefore, has been unoccupied. Water in the plumbing for these unoccupied rooms can sit stagnant, providing a breeding ground for bacteria like legionella."

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The base's Behavioral Health Clinic, which is housed in Liberty Barracks, has also been relocated until the building is deemed safe again. 

Liberty Barracks, a 216,000-square-foot facility capable of housing nearly 400 patients, opened in 2012, designed to provide a place to stay for wounded and injured service members while they receive treatment at the base's medical facilities. 

Those residents may also be especially susceptible to catching Legionnaires' disease, a severe type of pneumonia caused by coming into contact with Legionella bacteria. It spreads through microscopic droplets of water containing Legionella and can be transmitted through drinking water, swimming pools and cooling towers in air conditioning systems, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

Those who smoke, are 50 years or older, or have weakened immune systems are most susceptible to the illness. Base officials said in a press release that there have been "no known cases of Legionnaires disease or other legionella-based infections among residents or staff at Liberty Barracks."

This is not the first time Liberty Barracks has detected Legionella. Last year, the building was evacuated after the bacteria was found in the building's plumbing, according to a press release. 

"At that time, the plumbing system was treated with super-chlorination and regularly tested," base officials said in a press release. "Those tests revealed a positive result last week."

Engineers examined the plumbing systems and found that the building's hot water heaters are functioning normally, officials said in a press release. 

News of the discovery of Legionella at Joint Base San Antonio is the latest housing and contamination incident among the services. 

In late September, the Navy told Military.com that 10 sailors have health issues that might be related to a fuel leak that contaminated water aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz last month. 

In August, service members stationed at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, began posting dozens of pictures online showing widespread moldy patches in hallways and images of thermostats reading anywhere from 87 to 90 degrees due to broken air conditioning. Base officials created a task force in September to address the issues. 

Also in August, the Army announced that more than 1,700 soldiers at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, would be evacuated after an inspection found 12 buildings were unlivable due to mold and air conditioning issues. 

Liberty Barracks at Joint Base San Antonio will be treated through superchlorination, the same technique used after the 2021 positive Legionella test at the base, to eliminate the bacteria sometime this week, officials said. Seventy-two hours after the treatment, the base's civil engineer and public health staff will check the building's safety and sample for Legionella bacteria and residual chlorine before allowing service members to move back in.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at thomas.novelly@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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