Expert Shares The Dirty Truth About The Cecil Hotel Drinking Water

Skid row-based Cecil Hotel, known for being a favorite resting stop for blood-lacquered serial killers such as the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez, as well as murders in general (over 80 alone from 2007 to 2017), has once again come into the public spotlight thanks to Netflix's Crime Scene: Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel. The four-part documentary series explores the death of Elisa Lam, a Canadian national who went missing for 19 days in 2013, and has been lambasted by some for solution-less, over-the-top, conspiracy theory like spools of disreputable usury (per Slate) that have left a, uh...bad taste in some viewers' mouths.

How bad? Well, not as bad as the taste left by Lam herself, whose body, horrifyingly so, was discovered in one of the hotel's water tanks on the roof. She'd been seeping into the water supply for days, as guests showered, drank, and brushed their teeth. Guests eventually noticed that something was up with the pressure, taste, and color of their water, before Lam was discovered floating nude and face-up by maintenance worker Santiago Lopez, as LAist explains. Lam's parents filed a wrongful death suit against the Cecil Hotel (dismissed, per NBC Los Angeles) and two former guests in a filed a class action suit, as well (per CNN).

At the time, despite guest complaints (and common sense), director for the Los Angeles Public Health Department, Angelo Bellomo, said that test results showed "no harmful bacteria in the tank or the pipes." Could this hard-to-swallow claim really be true, though?

A bacterial issue due to decomposing body and fecal matter

Looper reached out to Walden University's RN-BSN Program Director, Karen Ouzts, PhD, RN, PHNA-BC, for further information about the Cecil Hotel's water contamination issue.

As Dr. Ouzts said on Looper, there could have been a coliform bacterial concern "due the decomposing body and fecal matter" because "a dead body breaks down over time, including decomposition of skin and organs, and release of fecal material." Such decaying organic matter could have accounted for the "musty or earthy smell and taste" in the water. Admittedly, the hotel's pipes could have also been rusty or generally in bad shape (not surprising considering how derelict the 1924-built hotel looks). 

In this way, as Dr. Ouzts goes on to say, the hotel could have mitigated the problem by keeping up to date with their maintenance and implementing an "updated water system with adequate filtration." She states, "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." 

Dr. Ouzts also gives some clear advice for folks daring enough to stay at the Cecil Hotel, or hotel-goers in general, saying, "Safe water should be clear in color and should not have any odor or unusual taste." At the very least, we figure: bring a Brita water bottle.