Dated May 31, 2000
Last week five adults and a baby died because of E.coli in
the Walkerton Ontario's water supply. Officials in charge of
the contaminated water supply failed to warn residents of the
small farming town not to drink the water because they did not
realize the potential danger of E. coli.
Note: Since this story was
written, seven people are known to have died because of the E.
coli outbreak in Walkerton, Ontario with four other deaths being
Dr. Murry McQuigge, the chief medical officer of health, said
the commission knew for at least five or six days, before people
started dying, that the water was contaminated.
"This could have been prevented," said McQuigge,
who asked commission workers three times over the weekend if
the water was safe to drink and each time it was told it was.
By Sunday, McQuigge said he began to distrust the utility and
ordered all residents to begin boiling their water after doctors
told him about several cases of bloody diarrhea. McQuigge also
said utility officials had secretly told him that the town's
chlorination system had been faulty for quite a while. The E.
coli bacteria can be killed off by chlorination experts say.
The residents have been enraged ever since the first victims
have died. "Why wasn't this information brought to the public
right away?" one man shouted.
By Thursday afternoon, the fifth person had died from the
bacteria, another elderly person. Two more children were critically
ill and had to be airlifted to a hospital in London, Ontario,
where several other critical children are being treated. One
youngster clutched a teddy bear as he was wheeled into the emergency
At least 700 people are sick and the chief medical officer
has predicted more will die because the symptoms - diarrhea,
nausea, fever- can take up to a week to appear. The Ontario Provincial
Police, Environment Minister, and McQuigge will meet Thursday
to discuss the possibility of criminal charges.
Ontario's Environment Ministry, Dan Newman, is already investigating,
and a possible contributing factor may be the downloading of
responsibility, for regular E-coli testing of municipal water,
by the provincial government. The Ontario Clean Water Agency
has taken control of the community's utility commission for at
least six months.
Residents had to drink bottled water and many chose to drive
to nearby towns to bathe because the town's water is still "grossly
contaminated" almost two weeks after the storm that caused
the area to flood. Schools and daycare centers are closed for
the week. Hospitals have been strained for days, but coffee shops
and restaurants are empty because people are afraid to drink
E-coli normally live in the intestines of humans and warm-blooded
animals, like cattle. Most strains are harmless but some can
be deadly. It can be spread by eating by undercooked meat from
a contaminated cow, or by drinking unpasteurized milk or apple
juice. The E. coli bacteria produces toxins that can lead to
kidney failure in severe cases.
View CBC Newsworld
This article originally appeared in The
Spartan, an online
student publication at St. Stephen's, New Brunswick .