895/Harbor Tunnel toll booths closed, source of Legionaire's Disease bacteria investigated

Jul 10, 2019

E-ZPass lanes at the toll plaza are operating as usual, but cash payment lanes are operating as video tolling lanes. Motorists do not need to stop at the booth, and are asked to facilitate traffic flow and to KEEP MOVING through the plaza. E-ZPass tolls will continue to be collected electronically, and drivers who usually pay with cash will be sent a bill in the mail. 

The Maryland Transportation Authority’s (MDTA) administration building at the Interstate 895/Baltimore Harbor Tunnel toll plaza will remain closed Wednesday, though the toll plaza will remain operational, as state and Baltimore City health officials test for possible sources of legionellosis. In addition, the MDTA will proactively treat water systems at the facility. The duration of the building closure is unknown at this time as health officials work to continue tests of the building as a potential source of the bacteria.

Monday evening MDTA officials were notified that two of its employees had been diagnosed with legionellosis. Both have received medical treatment. Health officials were at the site Tuesday to conduct a preliminary assessment of areas where legionellosis, a form of bacterial pneumonia also known as Legionnaires’ disease, may have been present. 

“We hope for a speedy recovery for our two employees, and we’re working closely with health officials as we ensure the building environment is safe,” said MDTA Executive Director Jim Ports. 

These transactions will be billed at the cash toll rate. The E-ZPass Stop-in Center at the tunnel facility remains closed. Customers can visit ezpassmd.com for other locations.

Once MDTA officials learned that the two employees had been diagnosed with legionellosis, the decision was made to close the site pending the health officials’ review. The majority of MDTA employees who work at the administrative building and the toll booths continue on administrative leave, while some employees were able to relocate to other sites.  

According the Maryland Department of Health, the germ (bacterium) that causes Legionaire's Diseas was not identified until 1976, when a number of cases occurred in Philadelphia among people attending an American Legion convention. The disease was then named after this outbreak. The bacterium was later named Legionella pneumophila. The illness caused by the bacteria may vary in severity Legionnaires’ disease causes pneumonia that can sometimes be severe and lead to death.

More serious illness tends to occur in men over 50, smokers, people with diabetes mellitus, chronic lung disease, or kidney disease. People with an underlying cancer or immune problem may also be at increased risk of Legionnaires’ disease. The Legionella bacterium is common in the environment It can be easily found in aqueous (water) environments, such as air conditioning cooling towers, hot and cold water taps, showers, humidifiers, whirlpool spas, creeks, and ponds. People get Legionnaires’ disease from inhaling contaminated water particles The Legionella bacterium is spread by the release of small droplets of contaminated water into the air from air conditioning cooling towers, showers, misters, humidifiers, etc.

To cause illness, infected water droplets must be inhaled (breathed in) by a susceptible person. The disease is not spread from person to person. Symptoms usually occur 2 to 10 days after coming in contact with Legionella and may include:

High fever

Chills

Dry cough

Shortness of breath

Muscle aches 

Diarrhea Fatigue

Headache

Abdominal pain

Legionnaires’ disease is treated with antibiotics. The health department may investigate certain cases of Legionnaires’ disease If more than one case of Legionnaires’ disease occurs from a common exposure, the health department may look for a possible environmental source of contaminated water.