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EPA issues drinking water warning for Southeast Nebraska nursing home

The Lincoln Journal Star - 5/23/2024

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued an emergency order requiring disinfection of drinking water at a nursing home and assisted living facility in Humboldt.

The order, issued to the city of Humboldt, requires the city to install a disinfection treatment system at Colonial Acres of Humboldt Nursing Home and Assisted Living Facility and implement other mitigation measures as needed to protect against the risk of Legionella bacteria in the facility's water supply.

The EPA said in a news release that Colonial Acres has had an ongoing problem with Legionella bacteria in its water system for several years that has led to illnesses and deaths, including a death as recently as March.

Legionella bacteria can cause Legionnaire's disease, a serious form of pneumonia, which is more easily contracted by elderly people and those with suppressed immune systems.

The EPA said in the news release that the Nebraska Departments of Environment and Energy and Health and Human Services have been working with the facility since the fall of 2022 on mitigation issues, including ongoing monitoring; flushing; point-of-use filtration devices; increased water temperature; the use of bottled water; and temporary shock chlorination, a drinking water treatment used for bacterial contamination.

However, those mitigation efforts have not been successful, requiring the EPA to issue the immediate order.

Betsy Packett, the administrator of Colonial Acres, said the safety of its residents continues to be the facility's first priority.

"While our team has been diligently working to mitigate the risk within the facility, we look forward to getting a more permanent solution in place," she said in an email.

Humboldt city officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but the EPA said in its news release that the Humboldt City Council on Tuesday approved plans to buy and install a water disinfection system at Colonial Acres.

The EPA also said that Legionella bacteria has not been detected in Humboldt's public water system and there is no risk to the general public.

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