By Steve Kilar, The Baltimore Sun
5:15 PM EST, March 8, 2013
Employees who were barred from their offices on the Johns Hopkins at Keswick campus because of water contamination have been granted additional paid leave days, human resources officials said Friday.
Employees in the campus' south building, which was closed two days, will get two days of added leave, said Pamela Paulk and Charlene Moore Hayes, executives for Hopkins' health system and university, in an email to employees who work at the North Baltimore office complex.
"You will be able to use the two days as you wish," the human resources officials said. "You can apply them to days you lost from work, if any, or you may schedule days off this fiscal year."
People who work in the north building, closed one day, will receive one additional leave day. Extra days must be used by June 30, they said.
Hundreds of health system and university employees who work in the Keswick complex were originally told that they would be required to use personal or vacation days to make up for time they were not able to work. In the end, Hopkins officials decided that that wasn't fair.
"This has been an extraordinarily rare and unusual situation," Paulk and Hayes said. "Given what occurred, its impact on you, and the fact that it was simply impossible for some of you to work, even in an alternate location, we — and the senior leaders of Johns Hopkins — feel the additional leave is more than justified."
On Feb. 26, nearly two dozen employees fell ill with symptoms including dizziness, nausea and headaches. The two-building complex was closed the next day so that the cause could be investigated.
Government health officials and Hopkins investigators determined that the sickness was caused by a contaminated water heater. The boiler was removed and eventually replaced.
The day before the sicknesses first appeared, a technician was supposed to inject a "sodium nitrite treatment" into the heating system of the Keswick campus' south building, officials said. Instead, that treatment was accidentally injected into a drinking water system.
The nitrite treatment, once ingested, caused some people to feel sick. Management is "reconfiguring the mechanical systems" to make sure the mistake won't be repeated, officials said.
On Monday, even though the kitchens and bathrooms where water was contaminated were still blocked off, about a dozen employees reported symptoms similar to those experienced a week earlier. The south building was closed again for a day while the situation was investigated.
Officials have since determined that Monday's illnesses were likely a combination of employees experiencing seasonal sicknesses — the cold and flu — and having physical symptoms of anxiety related to being in a building that was recently evacuated.
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