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Miami Valley Hospital hires Flint water crisis expert

Miami Valley Hospital has enlisted the help of a Flint, Mich. water crisis expert to find out what’s causing elevated lead levels in its water supply.

The hospital is no closer to finding the source of elevated lead levels in water at some campus buildings, officials announced Tuesday afternoon. The water samples tested remained around the same amount as original levels showed more than a week ago, said Mark Shaker, chief executive officer of Miami Valley Hospital.

On June 17, the hospital’s lead tests in the southeast addition of the building tested from 15 to 225 parts per billion for lead. The federal guidelines state anything over 15 parts per billion is not acceptable.

Flushing will continue until lead levels go down, but officials did not have an estimation of how long that would take. The hospital group has hired experts to find the contamination source — the effort will be spearheaded by the engineer who uncovered the water crisis in Flint, Mich. The lead contamination crisis in Flint began in 2014, and reports confirmed many children tested positive for elevated lead in their blood systems.

Marc Edwards, an environmental engineering professor from Virginia Tech and water expert, first addressed the Flint water crisis — testing water samples and working with the public before the EPA even got involved. He was then appointed to the Michigan governor’s Flint water inter-agency coordinating committee — a 17-person team of experts on water crises.

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Shaker said Edwards’ expertise will help “better identify the source.”

Edwards will tackle what officials are calling a “mystery” at the Miami Valley Hospital. Tim Keane, a water quality expert, has also been brought in to aid with the investigation. A possible source is road construction occurring on Warren and Brown streets — a possibility that officials are strongly looking into.

“I am concerned that it is one variable that we have to be very cautious about,” Shaker said.

City officials have said water systems at homes and businesses around the hospital did not have elevated lead levels when tested.

MVH is only required to test for lead and copper in the southeast addition of the building. After finding elevated levels in that building, the hospital widened testing to additional buildings and found elevated levels in the water supply of two additional buildings — the Berry Women’s Center and the Fred E. Weber Center for Health Education.

The hospital has shut off water to drinking fountains and ice machines in the affected areas. They’ve also provided bottled water for the Mini University, the hospital’s affiliated childcare center.

But the hospital has had contaminated water problems in the past.

In 2011, Legionnaire’s disease broke out in a new 12-story patient tower at MVH that was traced to the plumbing system in the new tower. One patient’s death was attributed to the outbreak, according to the Ohio Department of Health, while 10 other patients contracted Legionnaire’s disease.

The public water system at the hospital treated its domestic hot water with chlorine dioxide, according to the Ohio EPA. The hospital was required to test the water for copper and lead every six months, and they say the lead levels were standard in December.

According to University of Cincinnati researcher Kim Dietrich, children exposed to lead over extended periods of time have experienced behavioral and cognitive effects. They’re more prone to juvenile delinquency and commit crimes more frequently. Exposure can also cause various physical ailments and long-term conditions.

Dr. Tammy Lundstrom, chief medical officer for Premier Health, said many instances of lead contamination throughout the country seem to have been discovered late in the game — when children test positive for lead in their blood systems.

Lundstrom credited the widespread lead issues to aging infrastructure providing water to most cities in the U.S. She said testing the hospital buildings’ water supplies was a “very proactive” move. Now, they’re prepared to deal with the issue, and want people to know the hospital is still safe.

Shaker said there is a widespread problem with lead exposure in water systems across the U.S. — and not a lot of regulation to address it.

“Here’s the deal. There’s no ongoing regulation that anybody has that you have to check for lead in the water supply in public buildings to my knowledge,” Shaker said. “I’m not an expert. To my knowledge, there’s no regulatory reason to test for that. Usually, they get into the testing when they find out there’s a health problem in a school or other area. We just happened to do it because of the requirement with the EPA.”

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