No word on when water issues at Polk Center will be cleared up

Polk Center is dealing with the contamination of some of the facility’s water system with Legionella bacterium.

The contamination of the water came to light Dec. 28, when a Polk Center resident tested positive for Legionella.

Neil Shader, press secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection, said Polk Center told the DEP it posted the public notice of the tainted water “throughout buildings (e.g., on doors) and sent letters with the (public notice) to family members of patients/residents, as well as the (Polk) volunteer fire department, which gets its water from the Polk Center.”

Ali Fogarty, communications director in the press office of the state Department of Human Services, the agency that oversees Polk Center, said that since it was an “isolated water system,” only those that “utilize” or have “the potential to utilize the water” have been notified.

Fogarty said “DEP did not recommend additional notices” but “we will evaluate the need for additional notices.”

Fogarty also said “the DHS (Department of Human Services) has followed and implemented all recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania departments of Environmental Protection and Health to best resolve the issue and reduce risk of further infection.”

Fogarty said filters to remove bacteria and allow for safe use of water are being installed for affected facilities at the center.

“We are working with DEP on a preventative maintenance plan,” said Fogarty, “to help reduce the risk of infection until a more permanent solution is identified. Bottled water was also purchased for drinking water while the problem is being remediated.”

A notice posted at Polk Center from the DEP’s Bureau of Safe Drinking Water announced “a drinking water warning” and some restriction on the use of water.

Another notice at Polk prohibited the use of whirlpool tubs and announced that the tubs “have been shut off.”

Fogarty said the Department of Human Services is continuing to monitor the situation and is working to prevent a future outbreak.

“The Department of Human Services takes every precaution to ensure the safety and well-being of all the individuals served at the Polk Center,” Fogarty said.

The Department of Human Services has given no word on when the situation will be cleared up.

Shader said the DEP is continuing to work with Polk Center to correct the contamination within the facility’s water system.

“The Polk Center has provided public notification of the issue and is currently remediating the contamination,” Shader said. “DEP is also working with the Polk Center to alter their sampling plan to verify the remediation has been successful and to prevent future incidents.”

Established in 1897, Polk Center is an intermediate care facility for people with intellectual disabilities and provides them with 24-hour supported living, medical care and developmental activities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the Legionella bacterium that causes Legionnaires’ Disease occurs in manmade water systems in various places. Those places include showers, sinks, hot tubs, hot water tanks and heaters, cooling towers and large plumbing systems, as well as decorative fountains.

The CDC says people can get Legionnaires’ disease or Pontiac fever when they breathe in small droplets of water in the air that contain the bacteria or, less commonly, accidentally breathe into their lungs water with the bacterium when they drink the water.

“People at increased risk of aspiration include those with swallowing difficulties,” the CDC says.

Most healthy people who are exposed to Legionella don’t get sick, the CDC says. Certain factors such as age, smoking and weak immune systems can increase a person’s chances of falling sick upon exposure to the bacterium.