Drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline closed its North Carolina factory on Tuesday after testing at a cooling tower found bacteria that causes deadly Legionnaire’s disease, a company spokeswoman said.
The Legionella bacteria was discovered during routine inspections at the site in Zebulon, N.C., GSK spokeswoman Jenni Brewer Ligday said.
GSK is a healthcare company that researches and develops pharmaceuticals, vaccines and consumer healthcare products. The Zebulon site employs more than 4,400 manufacturing, research and development, and sales and marketing staff, GSK said on its website.
The site will reopen when the situation is remedied, Ligday said. The tower is a stand-alone structure that does not come in contact with any products, she said.
Ligday said 600 workers were sent home or told not to come in while the towers were being cleaned and retested.
City and state officials said the discovery did not warrant a public health alert and that no threat was posed to city drinking water but it was being tested as a precaution, according to a report in the Charlotte News and Observer newspaper.
The bacteria is found naturally in warm water and thrives in environments such as hot tubs, cooling towers, water tanks, large plumbing systems and fountains, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Legionnaire’s disease, a severe kind of pneumonia, is contracted by breathing in mist containing the bacteria. It is not contagious, according to the CDC.
Last week, New York City’s Department of Health ordered the inspection and cleaning of all cooling towers in the city in response to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that has claimed 12 lives.