Dept. of Human Services Taking Steps to Resolve Polk Center Contaminated Water Issue

| February 9, 2019

POLK, Pa. (EYT) – The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, along with other state organizations, are taking steps to resolve the issue of the contamination of some of Polk Center’s water system with Legionella bacterium.

The issue was discovered when a Polk Center resident tested positive for Legionella on December 28, 2018, according to Ali Fogarty, Communications Director for the press office of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS).

Legionella bacterium can cause Legionnaires’ Disease, a serious type of pneumonia, which people can develop when they inhale the mist of water contaminated with the bacterium. While healthy people are less likely to develop Legionnaires’ Disease, people over 50, current or former smokers, and people with chronic diseases or a weakened immune system are at a higher risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Fogarty reported that since the discovery, DHS has been following and implementing steps recommended by the CDC and the Pennsylvania Departments of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Health (DOH) to resolve the issue and also reduce any risk of further infection.

“Currently, filters are being installed in affected facilities to filter bacteria and allow for safe use,” Fogarty said. “We are working with DEP on a preventive maintenance plan 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.”

According to Neil Shader. Press Secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Polk Center reported to the DEP that they posted the Public Notification throughout buildings, sent letters with the Public Notification to the family members of the residents, and also sent the notification to Polk Volunteer Fire Department, as the department also gets its water from the Polk Center.

“I understand the center had been flushing their system to remove any contamination,” Shader said. “DEP is working with the center to ensure that the remediation did work and to revamp their sampling plan to avoid possible contamination in the future.”

“This is an isolated water system and everyone that utilizes or has the potential to utilize the water has been notified,” Fogarty noted. “We will evaluate the need for additional notices, but DEP did not recommend additional notices.”

There is currently no estimate available as to when the contamination may be cleared up.

“We continue to monitor the situation and are 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.

Polk State Center’s history stretch back to 1893 when Pa. Governor Robert E. Pattison appointed a commission to select a site in Northwestern Pennsylvania for the creation of an “Institution for the Feeble-Minded.”

After careful consideration, the Polk site was chosen due to its abundance of natural resources, fertile farmland, and access to railways. Construction soon began on the 2,000-acre campus, and “Polk State School” opened its doors in the spring of 1897.

By 1955, the census at Polk State Center, which has undergone several name changes over the years, exceeded 3,400 persons. This number dropped to 3,000 in 1970 and has continued to decline significantly over the decades due to the growing trend of community-based services.

Fewer than 300 residents currently reside at the facility.

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