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Heating failure disrupts health lab operations

Published 9:39am Tuesday, January 7, 2014

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Department of Health said Monday it will suspend most lab operations for at least two days after a heating system failure caused an estimated $1 million or more in damage.

The department said the failure happened early Monday, causing heating coils within the air handler system to freeze and water to leak on several floors.

Health officials said they would decide sometime today how quickly they can resume operations.

For now, officials have suspended all testing in the infectious disease and environmental laboratories. The department is still accepting newborn screening specimens and will send them to a contractor.

“Any time you have an interruption in our ability to test, that’s of concern to us,” Health Department spokesman Doug Schultz said Monday. “We’re working quickly and as hard as we can to determine what things we can do, what things we can’t do and what things we may need to ask assistance with.”

Schultz said the seriousness of a disruption in testing depends on what is being tested. A delay of a day or two probably wouldn’t hurt for water samples sent by a community for testing, but a delay in E. coli testing “could mean some people becoming ill and some not,” he said.

“We think our infectious disease area is fortunately not hit as hard as the environmental lab,” Schultz said.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which operates a laboratory in the same building, has suspended all routine sampling analysis, the Health Department said.