Careful with that potting soil, Eugene; Legionnaires’ death in New Zealand

One person is dead and four others have fallen ill in a recent spate of cases of Legionnaires’ Disease, with health authorities pointing the finger of blame at a humble gardening product.

The person who died is believed to have contracted the illness overseas, while four others in Canterbury are thought to have become infected since September through contact with potting mix.

Legionnaires’ Disease is a pneumonia caused by Legionella bacteria that are commonly found in water and soils, including potting mix and compost.

Dr Ramon Pink, Medical Officer of Health for Canterbury, said recommendations for handling and warnings were printed on most bags of potting mix.

"It is very important to take care to avoid inhaling the dust when opening and handling the potting mix. Bags should be carefully opened in a well-ventilated area, preferably outdoors, and away from the face."