STEC contaminates a third of private wells in Ireland

It’s estimated that 30 per cent of private wells in Ireland are contaminated with E. coli arising from animal and human waste.

Meanwhile, a report by the Health Service Executive (HSE) has found that there is a growing number of VTEC – a particularly nasty form of E. coli.

Analysis shows that Ireland has the highest incidence of  verotoxigenic E. coli, VTEC, or shiga-toxin producing E. coli, in Europe. Since 2011, the HSE has reported a doubling of the number of VTEC cases in Ireland from 284 in 2011, 554 in 2012 and 704 in 2013.

People treated for VTEC are four times more likely to have consumed untreated water from a private well. 

VTEC infection is most common in children and in up to 8 per cent of cases patients go on to develop serious kidney complications.

“These can, on rare occasions, prove fatal.  This is all preventable,” said Dr Una Fallon, Public Health Specialist in the HSE and Chair of the HSE National Drinking Water Group.

The EPA says rural families in Ireland are commonly affected and much of this is because of contaminated private wells. Consumers of water from private wells at much greater risk of VTEC than those who drink water from mains supplies, they said.

“It can take a long time for the bug to clear even after the child has become well,” said the EPA.

The EPA estimate that 50,000 private wells in Ireland are contaminated with human or animal waste which can cause significant threat to people’s health.

David Flynn, Programme Manager for the EPA said that ”people assume that because their water comes from a well or a spring that it’s completely pure and safe to drink, but that is not necessarily the case”.

“Sometimes, we find that people can develop immunity themselves, but visitors to the house, particularly children and the elderly are at risk of getting very sick,” he said.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have said that people have to do more to protect their well from contamination and have developed a new assessment tool ‘Protect your Well’.


Contaminated well water shuts Massachusetts Roy Rogers

I found a passion for food safety in 2000. I was working as a summer student for Doug, scouring the inter webs for news on food-related risks, when an E.coli O157 outbreak linked to Walkerton Ontario’s town water system hit. The bacteria was introduced into an intake well after heavy rains washed in the pathogen and poor operators, the Koebel brothers who managed the town’s water system, failed to follow safety procedures and were negligent. Almost 2500 were ill and seven residents died.

Since then, I’ve been leery of untreated well water. My in-laws live in rural Southern Ontario and have a well, they don’t treat or test the water. I won’t drink the water myself or let our boys have it.
Restaurants operating on wells can also have avoidable problems as the safety of a main ingredient in their fare is sort of out of their control.

According to The Telegram, a Sturbridge, MA Roy Rogers restaurant was closed last week after their well tested positive for coliform and E. coli.

Routine testing done by a contractor for the restaurant, at 234 Haynes St. (Route 15), found the E. coli and coliform bacteria, which can cause intestinal distress, prompting the restaurant to close on Wednesday and notify the local Board of Health and the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The DEP issued a boil-water order, meaning that no water could be served to the public without being boiled.
The agency also ordered the restaurant to post the boil-water order, disconnect its ice machines, chlorinate the well and 20,000-gallon storage tank, flush the system until the chlorine is gone, and then collect five bacteria samples in a row both from the well and from the distribution system.

Once both rounds of samples come back negative, the boil order will be lifted, the agency said.