The bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease has been detected in the plumbing system of Liberty Barracks at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, base officials announced Friday, prompting the relocation of about 150 people.

Officials said the bacteria was discovered through routine water testing. This is not the first time the barracks, which houses wounded and injured service members while they receive treatment at JBSA military medical treatment centers, has had to be evacuated because of legionella contamination.

For now, about 100 residents, 50 staff and the Behavioral Health clinic located in the barracks will be relocated. Then the barracks will be treated by a “super-chlorination process,” officials said, after which JBSA civil engineer and public health personnel will sample for legionella bacteria and test for residual chlorine before allowing service members and staff to move back in.

That is the same treatment the barracks’ plumbing went through last year, when legionella bacteria was detected. The plumbing system has been regularly tested since, and that is how the bacteria was detected this time, according to the JBSA press release. At that time, engineers evaluated the building’s plumbing systems to rule out mechanical problems, such as malfunctioning hot water heaters, but everything functioned normally, they reported.

The barracks is 216,000 sq. ft. and can house up to 360 wounded or injured service members.

“As of the last few months, we have been fortunate to have significantly fewer service members needing the care that Liberty Barracks was designed to support,” said Brig. Gen. Russell Driggers, Joint Base San Antonio and 502d Air Base Wing Commander in a statement.  “A significant portion of the facility, therefore, has been unoccupied. Water in the plumbing for these unoccupied rooms can sit stagnant, providing a breeding ground for bacteria like legionella.”

Legionella bacteria is frequently found in plumbing and water sources and can cause symptoms ranging from a mild case of the flu to a type of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ disease. The bacteria is transmitted by breathing in mist or vapor that contains the bacteria. 

JBSA officials say they and public health experts are now evaluating long-term, sustainable solutions to prevent contamination from reoccurring.

According to officials, there have been no known cases of Legionnaire’s disease or other legionella-based infections among residents or staff at Liberty Barracks.

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. A 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University, her work has been recognized by the Texas Managing Editors. She previously worked...