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Expert Reveals How Bad Drinking The Cecil Hotel Water Really Was

Netflix's newest true crime series is causing quite a stir, and one of its most gruesome details has fans talking.

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, which dropped on Netflix on February 11, 2021, tells the tragic true story of Elisa Lam, a 21 year old Canadian college student whose body was found in a rooftop water tank at Los Angeles' eerie Cecil Hotel in February of 2013. For years, rumors have swirled about how Lam came to be in the tank at all, spawning intricate conspiracy theories and Internet rumors... much of which is laid to rest in this four episode docuseries, which reveals much more about Lam's life and mental state.

However, beyond Lam's death, there was another huge issue for the Cecil Hotel — its water supply, which was obviously compromised for the nearly 19 day period where Elisa Lam's body was floating in its tanks. In fact, several hotel guests even sued the Cecil over the drinking water, which, they argued, was contaminated. To really investigate this matter, Looper spoke to an expert: Karen Ouzts, PhD, RN, PHNA-BC, program director for Walden University's RN-BSN program. Here's what Dr. Ouzts has to say about the drinking water at the Cecil Hotel.

Guests at the Cecil Hotel noticed some disturbing things about their drinking water

As Dr. Ouzts told Looper, there were plenty of concerns about the effect that the Cecil Hotel's contaminated water would have on anyone who drank it, though she does note that, upon investigation, the water was actually free of anything dangerous.

"One of the biggest health concerns was potential exposure to coliform bacteria or pathogens, which could have been present in the drinking water due to the decomposing body and fecal matter," Dr. Ouzts said. "However, upon testing the water supply, the Los Angeles Public Health Department did not find any harmful bacteria."

So how could Lam's body have damaged the Cecil Hotel's water supply? The explanation, according to Dr. Ouzts, is pretty gross: "A dead body breaks down over time, including decomposition of skin and organs, and release of fecal material, which can contaminate water."

Guests at the Cecil did complain that their water tasted and looked bad, which Dr. Ouzts explains. "Decaying organic matter in water can result in a musty or earthy smell and taste," Dr. Ouzts clarifies, though she says that brown water might not mean what you think: "Brown water can be caused by a variety of factors, such as the presence of fecal material or corrosion of old, rusty pipes."

The Cecil Hotel could have solved the problem sooner

According to Dr. Ouzts, the hotel probably could have handled the situation a bit better... by simply performing maintenance and getting a new system to process its water in the first place. "The hotel may have needed an updated water system with adequate filtration," Dr. Ouzts said. "It is also important for facilities like this one to check their water systems regularly to ensure they are maintaining adequate chlorine and pH levels. Routine maintenance and monitoring may help staff uncover any issues with the water supply, such as unusual color or smell, in a timelier manner."

As for what people worried that their drinking water could be contaminated for any reason should look for, Dr. Ouzts says there are a few clear giveaways. "Some signs to watch out for to avoid drinking contaminated water include unusual smell or color, strange sediments, or an old, rusty taste," the doctor confirms. "Safe water should be clear in color and should not have any odor or unusual taste."

The entire story of Elisa Lam's death, from the drinking water to her battle with bipolar disorder, can be found in Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, which is streaming on Netflix now.