Multiple locations found to have high lead levels at Dayton hospital

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Miami Valley lead levels

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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The Dayton Daily News first reported on Tuesday about the high levels of lead found in water at Miami Valley Hospital. Count on us to continue our in-depth coverage on this health issue.

Multiple locations on Miami Valley Hospital’s campus have elevated levels of lead in the drinking water supply, health officials have found.

Miami Valley Hospital was notified Friday by state regulators that lead levels found in the drinking water at the hospital’s southeast addition were above acceptable levels and may pose a health risk. After additional testing this week, elevated lead levels were also found in other buildings — the Berry Women’s Center and the Fred E. Weber Center for Health Education — at the campus on South Main Street near downtown.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said the elevated lead levels were discovered during routine water testing. Additional tests are being conducted in the areas in and around the hospital to determine the source or cause. Officials said a possible cause could be street construction near Warren and Brown streets, but that has not been confirmed as the cause.

“It’s a definitely possible source,” said Mikki Clancy, chief operating officer of the Miami Valley Hospital. “We remain concerned about that. It’s a suspicion, that’s for sure, but we do not have any definitive causes as of now.”

Kim Dietrich, a renowned lead expert from the University of Cincinnati, said it’s not inconceivable that construction could disturb some lead into the water. The lead source would unlikely come from an inside source like pipes in the buildings since the sites have been constructed fairly recently.

“It’s really a mystery, isn’t it?” Dietrich said.

City spokeswoman Toni Bankston said the construction near the affected area will not be halted. While the city water department continues to monitor sampling sites and areas around the hospital, 30 samples tested showed no lead detected in the area.

“There’s a lot of variables as to what could cause these elevated numbers,” Dietrich said. “I would caution anyone not to jump to a certain conclusion. It could be a sampling or lab problem.”

Michael Powell, interim director of the city’s water department, said Dayton has stepped up water testing in the surrounding area. There have been no detectable lead in the city water supply.

Hospital officials said Friday’s lead levels ranged from 15 to 220 parts per billion. The EPA action level for lead is 15 parts per billion. Risk varies depending on the individual, the circumstances, and the amount of water consumed, according to the Center for Disease Control.

The hospital has temporarily switched to bottled water while it works with the Ohio EPA and the city of Dayton to determine the cause. Hospital officials said there is no timeline for when water will be safe to drink again.

“As an abundance of caution, we’ve been doing everything we’ve been asked to do and more,” said Mikki Clancy, chief operating officer of the Miami Valley Hospital.

The city has 80 water-sampling sites placed strategically throughout the city, and the water from those sites are tested routinely, Powell said. Currently, the water department is testing samples near the hospital daily, but the city already had diligent screenings for lead levels in the water.

“We test continuously,” he said. “We want the 400,000 people we serve to know it’s safe for drinking and consumption.”

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 Miami Valley 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 OEPA started regulating the southeast building following the Legionnaire’s outbreak because the public water system treats its domestic hot water with chlorine dioxide. According to EPA documents, the hospital has had compliance issues with that aspect of its water system.

In April, the OEPA issued a notice of violation that stated the hospital failed to obtain “valid sample results” by a certified laboratory and analyst of that treated water. Heidi Griesmer, deputy director of communicationf or the Ohio EPA, said the hospital is currently in compliance with its drinking water treatment and sampling.

Griesmer said the OEPA does not regulate the Berry or Weber locations, and “cannot discern” what is occurring at those locations.

“We’re providing guidance,” she said. “We know it’s a very localized issue of something going on in or around the hospital.”

Lead poisoning can cause damage to the brain and kidneys, interfere with the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to all parts of your body, according to Dr. Thomas Herchline, medical director at Public Health – Dayton & Montgomery County. Dietrich said exposure to children could cause a multitude of issues including behavioral and cogitative delays.

MVH set up a hotline for people to call if they are seeking more information about possible lead exposure. Clancy said they’ve received some calls, and employees who have been tested remain unaffected by any possible exposure.

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