The Orono-Veazie Water District’s water purification and treatment plant on Penobscot Street in Orono. Credit: Courtesy of Orono-Veazie Water District

State health officials have detected the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease in two areas of the Orono-Veazie Water District, but they are telling the public that the water is safe to drink as they provide extra chlorination and are urging the district’s customers to stay hydrated during the hot weather this weekend.

Credit: Courtesy of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The state has not determined whether the bacteria that was found in the Orono-Veazie Water District is connected to the six cases of the disease that have been reported in Greater Bangor since late last year, a cluster that was announced to the public last week.

The Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention sampled the district’s water as part of its ongoing investigation into whether those six cases of Legionnaires’ disease can be traced back to a common source, according to Jackie Farwell, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

[State identifies cluster of Legionnaires’ disease in Bangor area]

The water district is now increasing its chlorine levels and plans to perform follow-up testing.

“Customers of the Orono-Veazie Water District may smell chlorine in their water,” Farwell said. “This increased level of chlorine is not harmful, and the water remains safe to drink and use. Residents in the area do not need to take any action in response to the test results or higher chlorine levels.”

Farwell added, “Particularly in light of high temperatures expected this weekend, Maine CDC urges residents not to avoid drinking water from this water district, as Legionella bacteria are not transmitted through the act of drinking water.”

Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia that can result when people breathe in droplets of water contaminated with a type of bacteria that naturally occur in freshwater environments such as lakes and streams, but that can spread to infrastructure such as air conditioning and large plumbing systems, according to Maine CDC.

Most healthy people exposed to the bacteria do not get sick, and Farwell noted that the “bacteria are ubiquitous in nature and have been found in other water systems around the country.”

Maine CDC has classified the recent group of Legionnaires’ disease cases as a cluster because they have occurred in a single geographic area but do not have a common source of exposure that state health officials have identified. That is not the same as an outbreak, which refers to a group of cases that can be traced to a common source.