Vets Home shows off upgraded water system

Tom Buchheit of Bric Partnership of Belleville, left, talks with Charles Bach, executive vice president of Poepping, Stone, Bach and Associates, on Wednesday about monitors that dispense chemicals to water at the Illinois Veterans Home. The home has a new $5 million water treatment plant and delivery system. | H-W Photo/Michael Kipley
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 29, 2016 4:30 pm Updated: Jun. 29, 2016 8:20 pm

QUINCY -- The Illinois Veterans Home unveiled a state-of-the-art water treatment plant and delivery system Wednesday.

"We've got the cleanest water, probably, in the state," said Erica Jeffries, Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, director.

The water system cost nearly $5 million and went online last week. It was put in place to combat the Legionnaires' disease that sickened 53 people and led to 12 deaths last year.

Tom Buchheit of Bric Partnership in Belleville, led the construction project. Buchheit said the water treatment plant and devices in each building provide multiple safeguards against legionella bacteria and other waterborne organisms.

Water from the Quincy water system enters the treatment plant, where it is tested and treated with additional disinfectant chemicals daily. After that, water travels to individual buildings and heated to 165 degrees to kill bacteria. Then mixing valves cool the water before it is released within the building's water system. Backflow valves also have been installed to prevent the growth of legionella.

Dave MacDonna, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, said the water is treated multiple times before it is used.

Shay Drummond, director of clinical and environmental services at the Adams County Health Department, attended the unveiling. Drummond was part of the team of medical professionals who responded to the Legionnaires' outbreak starting in August 2015. State health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also were part of the response team.

"This has been without a doubt the most unprecedented collaborative effort I or any of these partners have seen," Jeffries said.

During the Legionnaires' outbreak, the Veterans Home shut down water sources and used bottled water for cooking, drinking and sponge baths. Water fountains and cooling towers were shut down because legionella grows where water vapor can carry the naturally occurring waterborne bacteria.

After the health crisis passed, the Illinois Capital Development Board provided the funds to upgrade the water system.

"Because of the unique design and structure of the water system, and legionella's ability to be anywhere that water is aerosolized, it was necessary to remediate the entire system," Drummond said.

Drummond and other public health officials continue to meet weekly and were part of the effort to safeguard the home's water system. She said the work by local, state and federal partners has been phenomenal.