By Briana Vannozzi
Morristown Medical Center is under a bottled water only mandate for all drinking and cooking until further notice. The hospital was hit with two violations from the state Department of Environmental Protection after lead contamination was found in the water late February. One sample showed lead traces 22 times the federal limit.
“They wanted to be clear that it was not city water, it was their own well so it did not affect residents,” said Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty.
“We have determined that patients, guests [and] employees at Morristown Medical Center between Jan. 22 through Feb. 25, 2016 who ingested tap water may have had an exposure to lead,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
It’s believed the lead contamination is not from the raw water source, but rather from the hospital’s corrosion control system going offline. That system prevents lead that may be in pipes and old infrastructure from interacting with the water.
“I do know enough about piping that if the piping was built in the early 30s, late 30s or 40s, most likely every joint is a lead soldered joint and you can chemically treat that,” Dougherty said.
It’s unknown what triggered the hospital to test their water in the first place.
According to the DEP, two separate labs conducted water samples on Feb. 26. The Department of Health found 29 out of 39 samples taken exceeded the EPA’s action limit. The highest reached 326 parts per billion. The Garden State Lab found all 39 water samples were in the 90th percentile for lead. The federal EPA action limit is 15 parts per billion.
“It’s a dangerous thing. Lead’s on the forefront of everyone’s minds, especially what happened in Flint. So many people got sick and there’s been so many issues now and they’re finding out about that,” Doughterty said.
Flint references are being tossed around regularly in this area. The hospital has a hotline set up for anyone who thinks they may be at risk, especially mothers who delivered during this period. According to the CDC, there is no safe level of lead in children. Assemblyman John McKeon has a bill creating a task force to review the state’s drinking water sources.
“We’ve got this byzantine system now where there’s 600 water delivery systems and another 200 waste water systems and we’re going to have to look at that and see how we can do it in a more clean and efficient way,” McKeon said.
The DEP says the investigation is ongoing and according to a hospital spokesperson, “Testing results in recent days have shown a strong decline in the level of lead in our water.”
Another round of sampling is expected to take place soon.