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Contaminant identified in Keswick illness; facility to reopen Thursday

By NASH JENKINS | February 27, 2013

Nearly two dozen individuals suddenly fell ill at the Johns Hopkins at Keswick complex in North Baltimore on Tuesday, prompting an evacuation of the building, the closure of the facility’s cafeteria and an investigation into the cause of the illness.

The two-building facility remained closed on Wednesday while Hopkins, Baltimore City Health Department and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene sought to identify what had caused headaches, nausea, and shortness of breath in twenty-one University employees on Tuesday -- alarming enough to bring to the scene twenty emergency vehicles, which transported those reporting symptoms to nearby hospitals -- and an additional two the next day. All have since been discharged.

At around 10 o’clock on Wednesday night, the University sent an email to Keswick employees saying that the facility would reopen on Thursday morning. According to the email, the outbreak of illness was caused by nitrates and nitrites in a hot water heater on the north side of the south building.

“That is also the side of the building where sickened employees have reported coming into contact with water in various ways: eating food cooked with hot water, drinking beverages made with hot water, or using restrooms,” the email, signed by Ronald R. Peterson, President of the Hospital and Executive Vice President of Johns Hopkins Medicine, and Daniel G. Ennis, Senior Vice President of Hopkins’ Finance and Administration division, said. “Now that the hot water heater has been identified as the problem, it has been cut out of the system. While we continue our investigation, all restrooms, sinks, and other water sources served by that hot water heater will be closed. Once we have thoroughly tested and cleared all such sources, they will reopen.”

One employee hospitalized Tuesday night was discharged on Wednesday. All other sick employees are “recovering well,” the email said, with “no danger of long-term issues.”

The Keswick facility, a two-building complex located less than a mile northwest of Homewood, houses the offices of around 1,500 Hopkins administrative employees.

This article was printed on page A1 of the February 28, 2013 print edition.

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