Hot Water Contamination: Nitrates

The building I work at was evacuated on Tuesday and shut down on Wendnesday after about 20 people in one area got sick; they were dizzy and nauseated enough to be taken to hospitals.
The hazmat team from the fire department checked everything and came to the conclusion that it was nitrates and nitrites contaminating one of several hot water heaters in the building. Apparently the people in the area suppli ed by that heater used the hot water from the tap for cooking or making tea and cocoa drinks.
My first thought was that a gasket or seal gave out, allowing the water to contact the contaminants, but I can't see why a water heater would have lar ge amounts of nitrates and nitrites involved. Maybe someone on the group wi th experience in large-scale water heaters for an office building would kno w.
Someone in our department thought it might be a water softener system probl em; maybe someone grabbed a bag of fertilizer instead of rock salt for the flush and wash cycle, but we're on city water and water softeners are gener ally used with hard well water in my experience. Plus, would they have a so ftener servicing only the water heater and not the whole line, hot and cold ?
My wife, who watches a lot of Miss Marple type mysteries, thought it might be somebody trying to kill his girlfriend who works there, but contaminatin g a hot water heater seems a far fetched plot. He'd have to know which heat er served her break room area and get by the security desk in the lobby. Pl us, from what I know of water heaters, getting the contaminants into the he ater would not be easy.
Any thoughts? If we hear how it happened, I'll post an update.
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ay after about 20 people in one area got sick; they were dizzy and nauseate d enough to be taken to hospitals.

he conclusion that it was nitrates and nitrites contaminating one of severa l hot water heaters in the building. Apparently the people in the area supp lied by that heater used the hot water from the tap for cooking or making t ea and cocoa drinks.

o contact the contaminants, but I can't see why a water heater would have l arge amounts of nitrates and nitrites involved. Maybe someone on the group with experience in large-scale water heaters for an office building would k now.

blem; maybe someone grabbed a bag of fertilizer instead of rock salt for th e flush and wash cycle, but we're on city water and water softeners are gen erally used with hard well water in my experience. Plus, would they have a softener servicing only the water heater and not the whole line, hot and co ld?

t be somebody trying to kill his girlfriend who works there, but contaminat ing a hot water heater seems a far fetched plot. He'd have to know which he ater served her break room area and get by the security desk in the lobby. Plus, from what I know of water heaters, getting the contaminants into the heater would not be easy.

I don't know, but 20 people all getting sick at the same time from hot water sounds very strange. For one thing, in my world very few people even use hot water to make drinks or anything else with because hot water is usually an unfit source. One or two? maybe, but 20, all on one day were using hot tap water for beverages? And any contamination would have to be huge for a cup of cocoa to make people sick. A lot of times when you have a whole bunch of people sick like that it turns out most of them were psychosomatic. Also, I wouldn't assume the test results of an initial response team are conclusive...... It's possible if it's the hot water that there is more stuff in there besides the nitrates.....
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Bob wrote:

Nope. Quite common.
"Legionnaires' disease acquired its name in July 1976 when an outbreak of pneumonia occurred among people attending a convention of theAmerican Legion at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia. On January 18, 1977 the causative agent was identified as a previously unknown strain of bacteria, subsequently named Legionella. Some people can be infected with the Legionella bacteria and have only mild symptoms or no illness at all."
The disease was transmitted via the hotel's hot water supply.
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ion

,

Has to inhaled as an aerosol. Showers, cooling towers etc are the problem.
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HeyBub wrote:

Actually, if I recall correctly, at the Bellevue-Stratford the disease was transmitted via the HVAC system and was created by contamination in the HVAC cooling towers.
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You would be correct. Since that time, most operators of cooling towers pay much more attention to cleaning them.
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Pavel314 wrote:

Is there any kind of ice machine in that section of the building?
Sometimes, an ice-making machine can have a sewer line backup into where the ice is stored (especially if the ice machine doesn't have an air gap in the drain line), then the sewage drains out, and what is left is contaminated ice. The other options would be some other type of foodborne illness, which I doubt that a fire department would know how to assess or identify.
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ay after about 20 people in one area got sick; they were dizzy and nauseate d enough to be taken to hospitals.

he conclusion that it was nitrates and nitrites contaminating one of severa l hot water heaters in the building. Apparently the people in the area supp lied by that heater used the hot water from the tap for cooking or making t ea and cocoa drinks.

o contact the contaminants, but I can't see why a water heater would have l arge amounts of nitrates and nitrites involved. Maybe someone on the group with experience in large-scale water heaters for an office building would k now.

blem; maybe someone grabbed a bag of fertilizer instead of rock salt for th e flush and wash cycle, but we're on city water and water softeners are gen erally used with hard well water in my experience. Plus, would they have a softener servicing only the water heater and not the whole line, hot and co ld?

t be somebody trying to kill his girlfriend who works there, but contaminat ing a hot water heater seems a far fetched plot. He'd have to know which he ater served her break room area and get by the security desk in the lobby. Plus, from what I know of water heaters, getting the contaminants into the heater would not be easy.

Nitrates usually comes from shit. It usually comes with lots of nasty bacteria too.
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Pavel314 wrote:

Out of curiosity, I did a Google search for "nitrates and nitrites contaminating hot water heaters" and the following are two of the website links that came up:
http://hub.jhu.edu/2013/02/27/keswick-illness-update http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00046656.htm
After reading the second one, I wonder if any service was recently done on the boiler in question.
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On Thursday, February 28, 2013 2:22:58 PM UTC-5, TomR wrote:

t down on > Wendnesday after about 20 people in one area got sick; they wer e > dizzy and nauseated enough to be taken to hospitals. > > The hazmat tea m from the fire department checked everything and came > to the conclusion that it was nitrates and nitrites contaminating one > of several hot water heaters in the building. Apparently the people > in the area supplied by th at heater used the hot water from the tap > for cooking or making tea and c ocoa drinks. > > My first thought was that a gasket or seal gave out, allow ing the > water to contact the contaminants, but I can't see why a water he ater > would have large amounts of nitrates and nitrites involved. Maybe > someone on the group with experience in large-scale water heaters for > an office building would know. > > Someone in our department thought it might be a water softener system > problem; maybe someone grabbed a bag of fertil izer instead of rock > salt for the flush and wash cycle, but we're on city water and water > softeners are generally used with hard well water in my experience. > Plus, would they have a softener servicing only the water hea ter and > not the whole line, hot and cold? > > My wife, who watches a lot of Miss Marple type mysteries, thought it > might be somebody trying to kil l his girlfriend who works there, but > contaminating a hot water heater se ems a far fetched plot. He'd have > to know which heater served her break r oom area and get by the > security desk in the lobby. Plus, from what I kno w of water heaters, > getting the contaminants into the heater would not be easy. > > Any thoughts? If we hear how it happened, I'll post an update. O ut of curiosity, I did a Google search for "nitrates and nitrites contamina ting hot water heaters" and the following are two of the website links that came up: http://hub.jhu.edu/2013/02/27/keswick-illness-update http://www.c dc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00046656.htm After reading the second one, I w onder if any service was recently done on the boiler in question.
That first link is where I work. The second one is very interesting; that b ackflow valve problem sounds like it could be the problem. I forwarded it t o our building manager. Thanks.
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Pavel314 wrote:

The hot water supply, because it isn't hot enough, is a frequent source of all manner of nastiness. The nastiness, however, is usually of the bacterial variety.
In your case, because folks suffered a chemical contamination, the hot water system is merely one possibility, not the prime one.
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wrote:

maybe someone grabbed a bag of fertilizer instead of rock salt for the flush and wash cycle, but we're on city water and water softeners are generally used with hard well water in my experience. Plus, would they have a softener servicing only the water heater and not the whole line, hot and cold?

I doubt that is the problem, but yes, softeners are often used on city water systems. City water can be very hard and can come from wells too. We use a softener on out boiler feed water. By code, there must be a backflow preventer on the line also. Our town checks them twice a year . We have five of them in the building including the feeds for the fire sprinkler system. Most codes also call for backflow preventers where there is a lawn sprinkler system to prevent contamination from the lawn chemicals.
As for only the hot water being softened, yes, that is possible depending on where the water is used. Makes for better dish washing in the cafeteria, and for laundry.
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