Last November, a patient being treated for Legionnaire's Disease was found to have stayed at the EPIC Hotel in downtown Miami. Two weeks later, a second patient, treated after contracting Legionnaire's Disease, was traced back to the EPIC as well. And then, there was a third. The Miami-Dade County Health Department launched an investigation on December 8, 2009.
Those who came in contact with the water need not worry. Data indicated that while the water had low chloramine levels, it met the microbial drinking water standards for coliforms, which are the microbial indicators used to evaluate the safety of drinking water under the Federal and State Safe Drinking Water Acts. In layman's terms, it was determined that the drinking water, in its present state at the time of investigation, did not pose a risk if consumed.
The EPIC Hotel has been "110% cooperative," officials say. The hotel disconnected the activated carbon filter units that were removing the chlorine from their water system, and allowed the approved county water to flow back into the building's water systems. This county water meets all federal and state primary drinking water standards. The hotel also completed a vigorous decontamination and flushing of the water system. The frequency of this is set by the management of the hotel, as this precautionary aspect is not regulated by the MDCHD. The building's plumbing fixtures, including shower heads and water faucets, were cleaned and sanitized using sodium hypochlorite at 200 mg/l for 15 minutes.
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A secondary water treatment technology, copper-silver ionization, was implemented to sustain safe water quality. And lastly, a comprehensive and sound water maintenance and monitoring program has been in practice.
As a follow up, the MDCHD staff visited the hotel in March of 2010 and verified that the hotel water supply had adequate levels of chlorine residuals and that, as recommended, the hotel water system has been flushed regularly.
So what was the story with the EPIC Hotel having installed those powerful water filters in the first place to supposedly improve the quality of their drinking water? As far the MDCHD is concerned, in Florida, the installation of water filters is not a code violation. In fact, the EPIC obtained a city permit for the installation of the filters, which had to be physically disconnected because they were removing the chlorine residuals from the county water feeding the building. Chlorine residuals in the water supply are important to prevent opportunistic bacteria like Legionella from growing in it.
When the MDCHD's official report is released in about a month, we can look forward to more about the risk factors involved in such a case, what the patients were exposed to, the routes of exposure, and number of those who may have come in contact with the EPIC Hotel's water, pre-investigation.