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Health officials lift water restrictions at Ellicott City retirement community

Residents can now use water at a retirement community in Ellicott City.
Residents can now use water at a retirement community in Ellicott City. (Fatimah Waseem)

The Howard County Health Department lifted a more than two-week-long water restriction at the Lutheran Village at Miller's Grant, a newly opened Ellicott City retirement community where three residents were diagnosed with Legionnaires' disease, a severe type of pneumonia.

Miller's Grant management treated its water sources after the health officials found harmful levels of the bacteria in the retirement community's water, said Lisa de Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the county's health department. Despite testing numerous water sources in the community, health officials did not identify the source of the disease, but said the three residents diagnosed with the disease likely contracted it from the retirement community.

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"The remediation treatment returned the water to levels sufficient to meet water safety standards consistent as set for… by state and local regulations. Essentially the water is now deemed not harmful for drinking, bathing, cooking or any other use," said de Hernandez.

A case of the disease in late May prompted Miller's Grant management to shut off water as state and local officials tested the water sources for traces of the disease.

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"The first concern of the health department is the health and safety of the residents of our community," wrote de Hernandez. "To ensure this, water restrictions were enacted until testing could find the source of the issue or prove the water was safe. The final lab results we received showed no risk to the health of residents."

Out of what de Hernandez called "an overabundance of caution," the health department has recommended testing of the water sources continue every two weeks for the next three months. If the results remain the same, the health officials will stop testing, de Hernandez said.

The disease is caused by breathing in small drops of water that contain bacteria legionella, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Water systems, hot tubs, water tanks and plumbing systems are a common source of the disease, which disproportionately puts at risk individuals 50 years and older or people who suffer from chronic lung disease and weakened immune systems, according to the CDC.

Water restrictions forced Miller's Grant residents to use bottled water for cooking and cleaning and avoid using showers and sinks in bathrooms and kitchen for several days. The process of eliminating the bacteria from the water system "was time consuming and inconvenient, but necessary to ensure the health and safety of all residents and staff," said Liba Albin, director of church and public relations at the Lutheran Village.

Several residents stayed at hotels as management set up mobile showers and made arrangements during the water restriction period.

The incident has prompted Miller's Grant management to install an additional water treatment system and evaluate its systems in order to continue to monitor the situation, according to Albin.

"We are grateful that residents … expressed confidence with our efforts to maintain a healthy and safe environment for them. Many staff members worked tirelessly to take the precautionary actions required, ensure the safety and comfort of residents and return the community to normal," said Albin.

De Hernandez said Miller's Grant was "extremely cooperative throughout the process and advocated for the residents."

Miller's Grant officially opened in February after nearly a decade of planning. It includes 241 residential units that are a combination of apartments and single-family homes. Roughly 20 assisted living suites and 12 skilled nursing rooms are not open yet, according to Albin. Carroll Lutheran Village owns and sponsors the community, which was made possible by a gift from the Miller family.

In 2005, the family donated 50 acres of their property and $1 million to Carroll Lutheran Village to build a retirement community in the area. The family also donated land to the county for a new library near the site.

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