News release: Public health lab recovering after heating system failure causes water damage

News Release
January 6, 2014

Contact information

Public health lab recovering after heating system failure causes water damage

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Public Health Laboratory has suspended most of its laboratory operations for at least two days after the heating system failed early Monday morning, leading some building systems to freeze and causing significant water leaks on several floors of the building.

Crews from MDH and the Minnesota Department of Administration’s Plant Management have been working to protect equipment, samples and supplies, and to remove equipment from affected areas. The crews are stopping the leaks and are starting repair and recovery of the work and office areas. As of late Monday afternoon, workers had restored three of six air-handling units in the building, allowing the heat to be partially restored and temperatures stabilized in the lab building.  However, some equipment cannot be operated until the building’s full heating capacity returns.

MDH has suspended all testing in the infectious disease and environmental laboratories through at least Tuesday. Newborn screening specimens are still being received and sent to a contractor so testing can continue uninterrupted. MDH has alerted its public health and laboratory partners, such as hospitals and clinics and those who submit samples for testing. A number of lab employees were sent home Monday after the damage was discovered, and no employees have been injured.

Laboratory Director Joanne Bartkus said several major pieces of equipment sustained significant damage and the cost of the total damage could exceed $1 million.  MDH lab officials plan to decide sometime Tuesday how quickly they will be able to resume operations. If necessary, Minnesota can call on neighboring states to help with some laboratory testing. 

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), which operates a laboratory in the same building as MDH, has suspended all routine sampling analysis and is operating under its continuity-of-operations plan until the situation is resolved. MDA Laboratory Services Director Gary Horvath said the infrastructure of the MDA lab was damaged but there was only limited damage to the agency’s analytical equipment. He anticipates the infrastructure will be repaired and testing can safely resume when health and safety systems are operational.

Media inquiries:
Doug Schultz
MDH Communications
651-201-4993 or 612-250-2236 (cell)