Ford told employees at its sprawling plant in Dearborn, Michigan, that small amounts of deadly Legionella bacteria have been found in the water

Rouge site.

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Rouge site.
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Courtesy of Ford

  • Ford notified employees on June 20 that Legionella bacteria was found in the water at a factory at its Rouge site in Dearborn, Michigan.
  • The local Detroit radio station WWJ reported on Wednesday that Ford found Legionella in three locations in the Dearborn Diversified Manufacturing Plant, one of the Rouge factories.
  • But the bacteria count was not high enough to shut down the plant, which employs 740 hourly workers.
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A bacteria that causes a rare, deadly type of pneumonia has been found at a factory in one of the biggest car manufacturing sites in America.

The local Detroit radio station WWJ reported on Wednesday that Ford found small amounts of the Legionella bacteria in the water at the Dearborn Diversified Manufacturing Plant, one of the Rouge factories in Dearborn, Michigan.

The auto company told employees in a letter on June 20 that Legionella was found in three locations across the plant – including two bathrooms and the medical department.

However, the total count of Legionella bacteria was not enough to warrant shutting down the Dearborn Diversified Manufacturing Plant to disinfect, Ford said in the letter. “The affected areas will be scheduled for on-line disinfection according to established procedures,” the letter said.

Ford said in a statement sent to Business Insider:

We take the safety of our workforce very seriously. We regularly test for Legionella out of an abundance of caution and have a comprehensive, industry-leading, water-quality management process that includes steps to take if Legionella bacteria are found. The Ford protocol is more stringent than federal guidelines. Following that process, in each of those cases, we immediately disinfected the equipment where the bacteria were found. The level of Legionella detected in our recent sampling is very low and does not present a health risk to our workforce. We are not aware of any employees that have contracted the bacteria.

Founded in 1918, the Rouge is America’s longest-continuously operating automotive manufacturing complex. It employs some 7,000 hourly workers, though as many as 120,000 worked there at its peak during World War II, according to the Detroit Free Press.

“I describe it as the heartbeat of the company,” Bill Ford, 61, executive chairman of the board, told the Free Press. “We make the F-150 there. It’s our flagship, built by the best workers in the country. Whatever we do in the future, we’ll do it at the Rouge.”

Dearborn Diversified Manufacturing Plant is one of the many factories in the Rouge.

Meanwhile, the Legionella bacteria causes a rare type of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ disease. Some 6,100 Americans are diagnosed with the illness every year, amd around 10% of those who develop Legionnaires’ disease die from it.

The CDC says Legionella develops naturally in streams and lakes, but proper water management programs are necessary to prevent the bacteria from entering buildings and infecting people. The bacteria can’t be spread from person to person, but is instead acquired from inhaling droplets of water with the bacteria in it.

Ten people in New York City died from an outbreak of the disease in 2015, while more than 100 were infected.