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Forum News Service, Published January 07 2014

Minnesota health, ag labs damaged

ST. PAUL - Minnesota's health and agriculture laboratories near the state Capitol building are closed after the building's heating system failed due to cold weather.

Repairs could cost at least $1 million.

Health Department officials blamed the cold weather for freezing portions of the heating system. Water then leaked into the labs.

The infectious disease and newborn screening laboratories may be able to reopen Wednesday, but the Health Department reports that it could take longer for laboratory equipment to be fully functional.

"The second-floor environmental lab, which sustained the worst damage, will take longer to recover," the department reported in a statement. "Crews there are working to recover functions as quickly as possible."

Lab officials said no samples or specimens were lost or damaged in the water leaks because they are kept in secure storage units. However, testing on them could be delayed, affecting the validity of the test results.

Health Laboratory Director Joanne Bartkus said several major pieces of equipment sustained significant damage and the cost of the total damage could exceed $1 million.

The Agriculture Department's lab sustained less damage, but it suspended routine sampling analysis.

The state Health and Agriculture departments have labs in the same building, next to where the two agencies' main offices are located just southeast of the Capitol.