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Hospital blames construction for high lead levels in water supply

Sediment from Dayton’s water supply caused lead contamination in Miami Valley Hospital’s water for a short amount of time, hospital officials concluded Friday from their own investigation.

A short-term road construction project on Warren and Brown streets near the hospital likely disturbed the sediment, officials said, causing the the elevated lead levels that has forced Miami Valley to shut down water sources in three buildings for the past 20 days.

A major feed line for water to the hospital was part of the ongoing construction work on Warren and Brown streets and once the hospital switched from this source there has not been any issues with lead, Miami Valley officials said.

The construction could have had a “dramatic impact,” especially if there wasn’t an effective flushing system to remove sediment from the pipes, according to a Tim Keane, a water quality consultant for the hospital. Water samples tested five to 10 times over the Environmental Protection Agency’s guideline for lead amounts.

The federal guidelines state lead levels must be under 15 parts per billion.

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RELATED: Read more coverage on the Miami Valley Hospital water issues.

City manager Shelley Dickstein said the road construction to the water main was completed the first week of March. Workers are now finishing construction on the road, curbs and sidewalk areas. She said it’s hard to specifically identify construction as the definite cause, but Keane said it is more than likely the issue.

“I don’t know that we’ll ever have that evidence, that completely points to construction or whatever the transient event may have been,” Dickstein said. “Obviously, we’ll be talking about how to prevent any occurrences in the future.”

Hospital officials said they understand that construction is necessary and don’t believe the city intended for the problem to happen.

“We’re working with the city to make sure protocols are in place,” said Mark Shaker, president and CEO of Miami Valley Hospital. “We don’t believe this was anything malicious.”

Shaker said the biggest concern for the hospital is protecting the campus and protecting the water supply. The hospital has shut off the valve near the construction, and are drawing water from a line on the opposite side of the building.

Shaker told this newspaper he does not intend on reopening that valve anytime soon.

On June 17, the Dayton Daily News first reported the hospital found elevated lead levels in the southeast addition of the campus. Upon further testing, two more buildings — the Berry Women’s Center and the Fred E. Weber Center for Health Education — were identified as having elevated levels as well.

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For more than 20 days, the hospital turned off the water supply to drinking fountains and ice machines in the impacted buildings, and supplied bottled water to patients and staff.

Hospital officials hired water experts Marc Edwards and Keane to identify the source of the issue. Keane said the issue underscores the need for a “robust, high-velocity hydrant flushing program to ensure sediment is cleared from municipal water lines as part of planned maintenance.”

Dickstein said the city has a “strong partnership” with the hospital and worked in conjunction with them since the incident occurred. Now, she said the city will review the scope of work at construction sites and look at standard operating procedures for infrastructure replacements.

“We will be evaluating to make sure there isn’t anything else that could have been done or avoided any kind of disruption,” she said. “Again, with the 60 samples taken around the construction site and nothing else coming up, it’s truly confounding to us as to how it is specifically pinpointed to the construction.”

There will be construction to other service lines surrounding the hospital — lines on Wyoming and Magnolia streets are likely to be replaced. The city is required to test the water supply a couple times a month to ensure levels are within acceptable ranges.

Tammi Clements, Dayton’s deputy city manager, said she wants to learn more about how the analysis arrived at certain conclusions, including that the construction on Warren Street may have played a role.

Clements said the city’s water line system is made up of cast iron and ductile iron pipes. She said none of it is made of lead. Service lines that feed from the city’s main distribution system can be made from lead piping, but those connections are typically installed by developers and others, Clements said.

Staff writer Cornelius Frolik contributed to this report.

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