Lead levels declining in water at Morristown Medical Center
After reporting lead in the tap water, officials at Morristown Medical Center say the levels of lead have declined in recent days, but they still haven't identified the exact source of the contamination.
On Wednesday, the hospital issued a warning to anyone who drank tap water at Morristown Medical Center between Jan. 22 and Feb. 25, saying they may have been exposed to low levels of lead.
In a statement, spokeswoman Elaine Andrecovich said, “Water tests conducted throughout the medical center in collaboration with these authorities identified levels ranging from extremely low to those that exceed 15 parts per billion, a level which requires action according to federal regulations."
Andrecovich said since learning about the lead in the tap water, the medical center "immediately and aggressively acted upon them by shutting off tap water and providing bottled water for drinking and food preparation on Thursday, Feb. 25.
In recent days, however, testing results have shown a "strong decline" in lead levels. The hospital is continuing to work with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Health to remediate the problem. In the meantime, Andrecovich says the medical center will continue to use bottled water for food preparation and drinking, but it's still safe to use tap ater for hand-washing, cleaning and bathing.
"We are working with the DEP and DOH to determine a timeframe to restore our tap water supply," she said in a press release.
Andrecovich said the hospital is required by the state to test the tap water for lead on a semi-annual basis.
"The last test was conducted in September 2015, with acceptable results," she said.
The exact source of the contamination has not yet been determined but health officials have ruled out well water - from a well located on hospital property - as the cause of the excess lead in the tap water.
"At this time, we are investigating the possibility that a lapse in a water treatment called orthophosphate, a commonly used chemical that keeps lead from entering our water system, may have caused lead particles to enter the water," Andrecovich said.
The spokesperson said the hospital is following federal guidelines for notifying anyone who may have been exposed, including the medical center's "high-risk population" and patients such as pregnant women. They plan to establish a hotline for patients and guests to call and obtain information regarding the issue.
"In the meantime, we have been working in collaboration with the NJ Poison Control Hotline at 800-222-1222, which is equipped to answer questions immediately," she said.
The New Jersey NJ Poison Information & Education System on its website said the effects of lead poisoning can be especially harmful for young children (ages 6 and under) and developing fetuses. Too much lead in one’s body may lead to conditions such as learning and developmental disabilities, decreased growth, hyperactivity, impaired hearing and brain damage. Lead can pass from mother to unborn child.
Dan Alexander contributed to this report.
Toniann Antonelli is the digital managing editor for news at NJ 101.5. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.