Water supply near hospital tests negative for high lead levels

More than 40 businesses and homes surrounding Miami Valley Hospital near downtown Dayton continue to test negative for high levels of lead in water samples, city officials said Wednesday.

City manager Shelley Dickstein said the water department has been in “overdrive” trying to process samples, ensure water quality and find a source of the lead problems in the hospital’s water supply.

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.

Hospital officials said original lead levels ranged from 15 to 220 parts per billion.

The water department has been “steadfast in testing a pretty significant geography around the hospital.” The city has sampled more than 40 businesses and residences to ensure what is going on and check the quality of water, said Michael Powell, interim director of the water department.

At all of the businesses and homes, the vast majority has non-detectable levels of lead, or low levels — below the federal guideline of 15 parts per billion. About two or three of those tested sites measured above non-detectable levels, officials said.

“Clearly, the water continues to be safe in the water distribution system,” Dickstein said. “We’re confident that this unfortunate incident has been contained to Miami Valley Hospital.”

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 Dayton Daily News reviewed Ohio EPA records back to 2011 and found no instances where the hospital reported high levels of lead in its water system before the June reading. The hospital is required to test every six months.

The hospital has had some minor issues with the EPA including a notice of violation in late April for failing to properly perform a water analysis “by a certified laboratory and a certified analyst.”

City officials said the water department took an aggressive stance on sampling areas around recent road construction on Brown and Warren streets.

“There’s been no other indication of disturbance, elevated levels or anything else that would make us point to road construction as a cause,” Dickstein said. “Let’s be clear, nobody knows the cause at this point.”

Hospital officials told the Dayton Daily News that they were exploring possible sources. Mark Shaker, CEO of the Miami Valley Hospital, said they’ve hired two nationally renowned experts to solve the mystery and remedy the high levels.

But hospital officials are still considering the road construction as the cause.

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

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. Construction won’t stop while water experts determine the cause of the problem.

“The actual pipe work was done at the beginning of March,” Dickstein said. “So halting the project at this point would not result in a whole lot of impact for what’s happening as it relates to the water distribution.”

The city tests at least twice each month — typically testing weekly — within the distribution system, and the EPA only requires the city to test about every three months.

Powell said the city has one of the largest and most productive aquifer systems in the country. The aquifer is an underground sand and gravel layer saturated with water. Wells pump water from the aquifer to two different water treatment plants that can produce about 200 million gallons of water daily.

There, the water is treated, disinfected and filtered. That water is tested again before it leaves the plant and is pumped into 800 miles of water systems — then they eventually connect to individual service lines. Off of the main lines are service lines which usually have a gating mechanism.

The federal Lead and Copper rule went into effect in around 1992, and the city has been testing ever since. Powell said the city has never seen any actionable levels of the lead in the system.

“The city can explain and monitor and measure our city system but we don’t know, for instance, the service lines and the internals pipes,” Dickstein said. “We’re not involved to that extent.”

“Water kind of changes ownership as it leaves our mains and go into individual services lines,” Powell said.

Flushing of the hospital water supply will continue until lead levels go down, but officials did not have an estimation of how long that would take.

“Miami Valley Hospital is not only a huge employer to the city of Dayton, they are a huge asset to our community and the services they provide are critical to our citizens,” Dickstein said. “We are motivated to partner, support and bring our technical expertise and assistance to them as often and frequent as they want.”

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