Plea to check 'infected' plant was refused

Poisoned water: Utility accused of negligence as 400 customers fall sick in outbreak similar to one in 1992

MICHAEL PRESTAGE

The water company at the centre of a poisoning outbreak that may cost millions of pounds was warned last year of the need to inspect a treatment works thought to be the source of a similar incident in 1992.

South West Water was warned that the works, the probable source of a micro-organism that has infected at least 388 people in south Devon, needed a detailed inspection to prevent a further outbreak.

In a report following an outbreak of the cryptosporidium micro-organism three years ago, Dr Mark Kealy, then consultant in communicable disease control at Plymouth and Torbay health authority, called for an independent expert to look at the treatment process at the Littlehempston works.

His request was refused by South West Water. In a damning conclusion to his report, he said such a decision was "inexcusable" and added: "If South West Water have nothing to hide then there is no reason why they should not allow an independent water treatment scientist to look round the works to reassure us. Owing to the unwillingness of SWW to be open about their processes, it is difficult to be confident about the security of the water supply."

Mr Kealy said SWW representatives had no criticisms of substance about his report but "tried to cast aspersions on the 'scientific' quality of the report and made comments that were pedantic in the extreme".

The latest outbreak was first identified on 11 August and 200,000 households are still being forced to boil their water in the Torbay, South Hams and Teignbridge area. Children at 80 schools in the area who started the new term this week received bottled water.

SWW has already agreed to an ex-gratia payment of pounds 15 to customers - a total bill of pounds 1.5m - and legal claims are mounting from those struck down by the disease and hoteliers and campsite owners who fear a catastrophic effect on trade. The final bill could be millions of pounds. Mark Hann, South-west regional manager for the water regulator Ofwat, said pounds 3mo f improvement works were scheduled to be completed at the Littlehempston works by 2000, to reduce the danger of cryptosporidium infection.

He believes the recent outbreak will spur water companies to act more quickly. "The liability for causing a public health risk means companies face limitless damages. These pounds 3m works could already have been half paid for by the pounds 1.5m payments to customers."

Because of the previous outbreak and the criticism of SWW in not accepting that the cause of water that they supplied, Dr Sarah Harrison, consultant in communicable disease control at Plymouth and South West Health Trust, said stringent procedures were in place to identify cryptosporidium.

"This has been a much bigger, more rapid outbreak than the last time, but at the same water treatment works," she said. "When we plotted the outbreaks on a map they closely corresponded with the boundary of the works."

Yesterday, SWW officials still maintained that it was too early to speculate on the source of the incident and said a major investigation was under way. The instruction that all water should be boiled was a "precaution".

A spokesman said the micro- organism was a relatively new discovery and what was at issue was "frontier of science stuff".

He denied that the water company was now diverting water whose source was known to be free of the micro-organism to the works to ensure negative testing, but this was contradicted by Dr Harrison.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable