Water firm ‘fallen short’ on parasite outbreak

The boss of South West Water (SWW) says she is “truly sorry” for the outbreak of a diarrhoea-type illness in south Devon.

A total of 22 cases of cryptosporidiosis were confirmed in the Brixham area by UKHSA on Wednesday, with more than 100 people reporting symptoms to their GP in the last week.

SWW said it believed it had located the source where the parasite could have entered the water network.

About 16,000 homes and businesses have been served boil water notices, with SWW CEO Susan Davy saying the company had “fallen significantly short”.

She said: “Our ground technicians have been working around the clock to identify the source of the contamination and rectify the situation so we can resume a normal water supply.

“To those in the affected area and our customers across the South West, I am truly sorry for the disruption and wider anxiety this has caused. While incidents like these are thankfully very rare, our customers expect a safe, clean, and reliable source of drinking water.”

Infections from the parasite cryptosporidium can be caused by drinking contaminated water or swallowing it in swimming pools or streams. Outbreaks cause prolonged diarrhoea and affect between 3,000-6,000 people a year in the UK, according to health officials. Cases of cryptosporidium will be seen in Brixham for at least the next 10 days, a professor has said.

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia (UEA), said the parasite could be in the incubation period for up to two weeks. He said: “Even if they have stopped all new infections by now, you would expect to see further cases for at least 10 days to two weeks.”

SWW looks after water and wastewater services for 1.8 million customers across Cornwall, Devon, the Isles of Scilly and parts of Dorset and Somerset, according to its website.

The water company said investigations were continuing, as were tests of the water quality. It also asked customers to continue boiling their water before consuming it. Ms Davy said she knew SWW had “fallen significantly short” of what customers expected. She said: “All of us at South West Water live and work in the region, just like you. It is our home and a place we love. I am sorry this has happened.”

SWW said affected customers would be given £115 in compensation and that the amount would be kept under review. On the government’s website, the Drinking Water Inspectorate confirmed SWW was investigating and continued to work with relevant health authorities. Water Minister Robbie Moore assured residents boiled water was safe.

“We need South West Water to resolve this issue and ensure clean water returns to the Brixham area as soon as possible,” he said.

Schools have been affected by the situation. A Brixham primary closed to students on Thursday as it said running a school without drinking water was “not possible”. South Devon College, which is in the affected area, said it was open and all the necessary precautions were being taken. Principal Laurence Frewin said its priority was reducing disruption to students taking exams.

“We don’t want them coming in feeling worried about something that’s happening around them so we’ve taken every step that we can to make them feel settled, to make them feel assured, ready for their exams and happy with what they’re doing.”

A campsite has lost bookings due to the contaminated water. Aaron Richardson, receptionist at Wall Park Touring Caravan campsite, said customers have contacted the park stating it was “too risky” to visit. Mr Richardson said the park was left without fresh water until Thursday night. He said SWW has not communicated with the campsite to keep them informed on the water developments. “There is no contact from SWW to inform us about it properly,” he said.

Michael Smith co-owner of Venus café at Broadsands beach said the current compensation offer of £115 would not come close to matching their losses. He said: “It will be thousands of times that. During the week at the minute we are not super busy, but we are losing £400 or £500 per day for the last couple of days. And come the weekend, with sunshine next and half-term the week after we are talking many thousands”.

Updates from South West Water can be found here: https://www.southwestwater.co.uk/about-us/latest-news/boil-water-notice–alston-and-the-hillhead-area-of-brixham

  • Original Article: BBC News
  • Date: May 2024