Johns Hopkins at Keswick building to reopen Wednesday

University officials express confidence that complex is safe for employees after two outbreaks of illness in the past week

The south building at Johns Hopkins at Keswick will reopen Wednesday, university officials announced, adding that they have "complete confidence" the building is safe for employees after two separate outbreaks of illness in the past week.

On Monday, about a dozen employees complained of symptoms including headache, nausea, and dizziness, and the building was closed Tuesday. About two dozen employees reported similar symptoms last week, prompting a precautionary evacuation. The first outbreak of illnesses was eventually attributed to contaminated water from a hot water heater that harbored a source of nitrates and nitrites.

In a message to Johns Hopkins employees Tuesday evening, 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, expressed confidence that the issues with the water at Keswick have been resolved.

"Late yesterday, we learned that the nitrites that made employees sick last Tuesday were accidentally infused last Monday afternoon into the hot water heater serving the affected half of the south building," they wrote. "This knowledge corroborates our strong belief, based on hundreds of tests since last week, that this one hot water heater was the source of those illnesses. That hot water heater was cut out of the system last Wednesday and has since been replaced. We have flushed the water in the system repeatedly. And we have tested the water repeatedly. The test results are negative."

The negative results were confirmed by tests done by the Baltimore Fire Department and city and state health departments, they said.

Petereson and Ennis said that additional steps will be taken to ensure the safety of all employees:

  • Water coolers from an outside vendor have been installed throughout the south building. They are not and will not be filled with building water.
  • A doctor and a nurse from the Office of Occupational Health will be on site. Anyone who experiences any symptoms can be seen and evaluated immediately. Also, the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program will be on site and available to anyone who wishes to talk through any feelings of concern.
  • University officials will meet with managers and supervisors Wednesday morning at 8 a.m., then go throughout the building to hold information sessions for all employees in their work areas to address building conditions, health and safety, human resources issues, and other issues.
  • The water in the building will be tested on at least a weekly basis for the foreseeable future

"To be absolutely clear, we are confident that water in the building is currently safe," Peterson and Ennis wrote.

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. About 700 people work in the south building, and another 300 in the north building.

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