On Sunday, May 21, 2000, at 1:30 p.m., the Bruce Grey Owen Sound Health Unit in Ontario (that’s in Canada) posted a notice to hospitals and physicians on their web site to make them aware of a boil water advisory for Walkerton, and that a suspected agent in the increase of diarrheal cases was E. coli O157:H7.
Not a lot of people were using RSS feeds, and I don’t know if the health unit web site had must-visit status in 2000. But Walkerton, a town of 5,000, was already rife with rumors that something was making residents sick, and many suspected
the water supply. The first public announcement was also the Sunday of the Victoria Day or May 24 long weekend and received scant media coverage.
It wasn’t until Monday evening that local television and radio began reporting illnesses, stating that at least 300 people in Walkerton were ill.
At 11:00 a.m., on Tuesday May 23, the Walkerton hospital jointly held a media conference with the health unit to inform the public of outbreak, make the public aware of the potential complications of the E. coli O157:H7 infection, and to tell the public to take necessary precautions. This generated a print report in the local paper the next day, which was picked up by the national wire service Tuesday evening, and subsequently appeared in papers across Canada on May 24.
The E. coli was thought to originate on a farm owned by a veterinarian and his family at the edge of town, a cow-calf operation that was the poster farm for Environmental Farm Plans. Heavy rains washed cattle manure into a long discarded well-head which was apparently still connected to the municipal system. The brothers in charge of the municipal water system for Walkerton were found to add chlorine based on smell rather than something like test strips, and were criminally convicted.
Ultimately, 2,300 people were sickened and seven died. All the gory details and mistakes and steps for improvement were outlined in the report of the Walkerton inquiry, available at http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/about/pubs/walkerton/.
In Aug. 2016, some 5,500 people in a New Zealand town of 14,000 were sickened with Campylobacter linked to the water supply and three died.
Just like Walkerton, where a drunk employee was found to adjust chlorine levels based on smell, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand also had some lax procedures.
It identified several failings by the Hastings District Council, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and drinking water assessors.
The outbreak in August last year made some 5500 of the town’s 14,000 residents ill with campylobacteriosis. It put 45 in hospital and was linked to three deaths.
The contamination was later found to have entered the town’s drinking water bores. Panel chair Lyn Stevens QC said the outbreak “shook public confidence” in this fundamental service of providing safe drinking water and it raised “serious questions” about the safety and security of New Zealand’s drinking water.
The district and regional councils did not directly cause the outbreak, but their “dysfunctional relationship” and their lack of co-operation resulted in a number of missed opportunities that may have prevented it from occurring.
Knowledge and awareness of aquifer and contamination risks near Brookvale Rd fell below “required standards” and it failed to take effective steps to assess the risk, including the management of the many uncapped or disused bores in the vicinity, and the monitoring of the district council’s resource consent to take the water.
The district council “failed to embrace or implement the high standard of care required of a public drinking-water supplier,” particularly in light of a similar outbreak in the district in 1998, from which it appeared to have learned nothing.
The council’s mid-level managers especially failed, Stevens said. They delegated tasks but did not adequately supervise or ensure implementation of requirements. This led to unacceptable delays in developing the council’s water safety plan which would have been “fundamental in addressing the risks of the outbreak.”
That’s a polite way of saying, people care more about their retirement than others, and often fuck up.
Drinking Water Assessors were also at fault, with Stevens finding they were “too hands off” in applying the drinking water standards.
Sounds like food safety auditors.
They should have been stricter in requiring the district council to comply with responsibilities with its water safety plan, he said.
“They failed to address the [council] sufficiently about the lack of risk assessment and the link between the bores and the nearby pond.”
Nicki Harper of Hawkes Bay Today wrote a high number of positive E. coli readings in the Havelock North and Hastings water supplies over the years, dating back to a 1998 water contamination event similar to last year’s Havelock North campylobacter outbreak, caused bureau-types to do, nothing.
It was confirmed yesterday that the most likely source of the contamination was sheep feces that ran off a paddock following heavy rain on August 5 and 6 into the Mangateretere pond near Brookvale Bore 1.
Water from the pond then entered into the aquifer and flowed across to Bore 1 where it was pumped into the reticulation, Mr Stevens said.
The son of an elderly woman who died shortly after contracting Campylobacter during the Havelock North gastro crisis says she had “good innings” despite her death.
Jean Sparksman, 89, was one of three elderly people whose deaths were linked to the outbreak and had been living in the Mary Doyle retirement village at the time of the crisis.
Speaking from the Whangaparaoa Peninsula in Auckland yesterday, Mrs Sparksman’s son, Keith, said her death shouldn’t have happened the way it did.
“She contracted this bug but there were no steps taken to help. That’s probably why she died in the first place.”
The failures are all too familiar: space shuttle Challenger, Bhopal, BP in the Gulf, Listeria in Maple Leaf cold cuts, Walkerton: the tests said things were not good. But a human condition kicked in: Nothing bad happened yesterday so there is a greater chance of nothing bad happening today.
All these people fucked up, and others got sick.
Yet government, industry and academia will trod along, piling up retirement savings, until the next shitfest comes along.
So just watch this stupid Stones video with Keith out of his mind.
Nothing bad will really happen.