Tainted water in Worcester forces a delay in surgeries

WORCESTER — UMass ­Memorial Medical Center is canceling numerous surgeries at its Memorial Campus and shifting others to its University Campus after tests revealed contaminants in the hospital’s water lines and sterilization equipment, according to internal documents obtained by the Telegram & Gazette.

The sediment particles found in some water supply lines and equipment used to sterilize surgical instruments are thought to be the result of a major city water main break in mid-November that forced water service to be shut off to the entire city for about 12 hours.

The hospital must replace filters, sterilization equipment, and some water lines before it can return to normal operations, a process that could take up to three weeks, according to internal hospital communications.


Organic film and sediment lining public water mains and private plumbing often gets dislodged by water gushing through the system again after a shutoff, but any such contaminants would have been flushed out of city water in a day or two, said Robert L. Moylan, the city director of public works and parks.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“Whatever happened, happened then and there,” Moylan said. “We haven’t had any calls on this at all. This is news to us.”

UMass Memorial tested the water at Memorial Campus on Belmont Street before resuming operations in November.

Moylan said he was not in a position to know why the hospital did not learn of the contamination problem until now.

It is also not clear if the water issues affected the cleanliness of operations performed at Memorial Campus in the two months since the Nov. 12 water main break on Chandler Street, near Worcester State University.


UMass Memorial spokesman Rob Brogna said Friday afternoon that he was gathering information on the situation but could not immediately comment.

But the extent of the problem was clear in an e-mail Friday to the hospital’s surgical staff from Dr. Margaret Hudlin, vice president for perioperative services.

Hudlin said in the message that crews from a plumbing vendor will work around the clock through the weekend to begin restoring sterile conditions.

“All of the incoming water lines that lead to and that are located at various stages of the sterilization process are being fitted with new filters. These filters will prevent any particles that may be in the domestic water supply from entering the sterilizing equipment,” Hudlin wrote.