E. coli Kills 6 People in Walkerton Ontario

By: Andrew M.
Spartan News, St. Stephen's High
St. Stephen's, NB

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 investigated.


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 room.

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 the water.

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 online coverage

This article originally appeared in The Spartan, an online
student publication at St. Stephen's, New Brunswick .