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Epic Hotel's New Water Filtration System Suspected as
 Possible Link to Waterborne Disease

Kimpton's Miami Hotel Remains Closed as its Water System is Inspected and Disinfected


By Fred Tasker, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

December 15, 2009 - Miami-Dade health officials are asking anyone who stayed at downtown Miami's luxury Epic Hotel recently, and who now might have symptoms of Legionnaire's Disease, to contact the department -- and their personal physicians.

The hotel is closed while its water system is inspected and disinfected.

Recent hotel guests are asked to call the health department at 305-470-5660. Epic hotel spokesman Bruce Rubin said the hotel, at 270 Biscayne Blvd. Way, in downtown Miami, is giving the county a contact list for its guests and residents -- many of whom are from out of the country.

``Symptoms include cough, fever with or without chills, greenish or yellow sputum, headaches and body aches,'' said Dr. Vincent Conte, the health department's chief epidemiologist. ``The incubation period is two to 14 days from time of exposure.''

He said 8,000 to 15,000 people die each year from Legionnaire's Disease, whose fatality rate is 2 to 30 percent.

One European tourist died in October, and two others fell ill in November, all from Legionnaire's Disease, Conte said. The two sickened have fully recovered, he said. Two of the victims took cruises out of Miami -- on separate cruse lines. He declined to give their ages, sex or country of origin.

Officials are investigating whether the new water filtration system at the hotel might have been involved in the contamination, although they stressed that their investigation is not complete.

``It appears the hotel installed a filtration system that strips the chlorine out of the water from the county, making it susceptible to waterborne diseases,'' said Samir Elmir, the department's director of environmental health and engineering. ``I've never seen a system like that.''

Rubin said the filter was made by Culligan. He said no other hotels managed by Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants of San Francisco use that filter system. Spokesmen for Culligan, headquartered outside Chicago, did not return calls for comment.

Conte stressed that the county water supply in downtown Miami is safe.

``Its chlorine levels are more than adequate to kill dangerous bacteria,'' he said. ``It appears the problem is confined strictly to the Epic Hotel.''

Still, he said the Health Department is contacting other new building owners in Miami-Dade to determine whether any of them has a similar filtration system.

``There's a possibility it could be in other places, although this is the only case we're aware of,'' Conte said. ``If they have that system, they need to look at it.''

He said he did not know whether the problem might have been with the filter itself or in the way it was used.

``We're still trying to put together the pieces of a puzzle,'' Elmir said.

Elmir said the department also is contacting the Miami Building Department to prevent similar problems in other buildings.

Elmir said staff and engineers at the Epic Hotel are cooperating with the investigation, and with efforts to clean up their water supply.

``We started executing the plan Sunday, to disinfect the filter system, superchlorinate the entire plumbing system, the hot water, cold water, cooling tower, spa, showers. After that we will check to make sure the chlorine in the whole building is the same as the level in county water,'' Elmir said. Rivera said she doesn't know how long the hotel will be closed.

``I don't want to say a time frame. I don't know how long it will be. We want to do it as quickly as possible but as safely as possible.'' Rubin said the hotel has relocated all guests and residents and all events scheduled in the building in coming days. Weddings scheduled for Friday and Saturday have been relocated, he said.

Conte said the health department was notified about the Legionnaire's Disease cases by the quarantine station at Miami International Airport run by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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To see more of The Miami Herald or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.herald.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Miami Herald

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