Hot water heater identified as source of illness at Johns Hopkins at Keswick

Heater harbored source of nitrates, nitrites; complex to reopen Thursday

The Johns Hopkins at Keswick complex will reopen Thursday after health officials determined that a hot water heater had likely caused several employees to become ill on Tuesday, university officials announced late Wednesday.

City and state health workers found that the heater harbored a source of nitrates and nitrites, which can cause the types of symptoms employees reported, including headaches, nausea, difficulty breathing, and light-headedness. At least 23 employees reported experiencing symptoms, including 17 who were transported by ambulance to local hospitals on Tuesday.

Many of the employees who reported symptoms had come in contact with water from the heater on the north side of the Keswick complex's south building, officials determined, either by cooking food, preparing hot beverages, or using the restroom. Once the heater was identified as the source of the contaminated water, it was cut out of the system. Restrooms, sinks, and other hot water sources served by that heater will be out of service while the investigation continues.

All employees who reported feeling ill are recovering well, university officials said, adding that one employee who remained hospitalized overnight Tuesday was discharged today.

"We extend our deepest regrets and apologies to those employees who became sick for their discomfort, and to all affected employees and their families for the disruption and concern they have experienced over the past two days," Ronald R. Peterson, executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine, and Daniel G. Ennis, senior vice president for finance and administration for Johns Hopkins University, wrote in a message to Johns Hopkins employees.

Around 10 a.m. Tuesday, Baltimore Fire Department medics responded to a call for an unknown illness at Keswick's south building, and upon arriving found several people with similar illness symptoms. The Fire Department ordered a precautionary evacuation of the south building, where approximately 700 university and health system employees work.

The north building, where another 300 employees work, was not evacuated and there were no reports of illness there.

The Fire Department, EMS, and Hazardous Materials Unit inspected both buildings throughout the day Tuesday and found no airborne safety issues. City and state health officials continued to try to determine the source of illness Wednesday, and both of the complex's buildings were closed to allow them to work.

Employees who work at the Keswick complex and experience illness symptoms were encouraged to contact their primary health care provider or seek other medical attention.

The Johns Hopkins at Keswick complex (formerly the Zurich Insurance complex) is composed two buildings—the north building, built in 1970 and renovated in 1999, and the south building, built in 1981. It is a mixed-used facility that contains nearly 415,000 square feet of space.

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