Thousands of Devon Households Told They Can Safely Drink Tap Water Again Following Parasite Outbreak

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South West Water said it has repaired a damaged valve that was the possible cause of contamination and regular testing will also continue throughout the network

Thousands of households in Devon have been told they can safely drink their tap water again as the region’s water supplier lifted boil water notices on Saturday following a parasite outbreak.

South West Water (SWW) issued the notices on Wednesday after confirmed and suspected cases of cryptosporidium, a disease that can cause symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting, were found in the Brixham area of Devon.

The notices, which affected around 17,000 households and businesses, were issued after test results found “small traces of the organism.”

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said on Friday that 46 cases of cryptosporidium had been confirmed, and that more cases were anticipated.

By Saturday, SWW said around 14,500 households in the Alston supply area can now use their tap water safely, although some 2,500 properties in Hillhead, upper parts of Brixham, and Kingswear should continue to boil their supply before drinking it.

The water company said a damaged valve on private land in the Hillhead supply area, which was identified as the possible cause of contamination, had been isolated from the network and repaired, and that it’s “urgently investigating how this happened, while working to rule out any other possible sources of contamination elsewhere in the network.”

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SWW said the decision on Saturday came after “rigorous testing” and was made in consultation with the UKHSA and the local authority’s environmental health department. It also said regular testing will also continue throughout the network.

Laura Flowerdew, SWW chief customer officer, said: “Following rigorous testing this week, it is now safe to lift the boil water notice in the Alston water supply area. This decision has been supported by the government’s public health experts and the local authority’s environmental health department.

“This situation has caused an immense amount of disruption, distress, and anxiety. We are truly sorry this has happened.

Ms. Flowerdew said the company has “fallen significantly short of expectations” on this occasion, and vowed to work until the issue has been fully resolved.

“With the boil water notice still in place in Hillhead, upper parts of Brixham and Kingswear, we are urging customers who are unsure if they are still affected to visit the postcode checker on our website or call us so we can check for them,” she said.

SWW added that an additional £100 compensation will be paid to affected customers in the areas that continue to be affected.

Dr, Bayad Nozad, Consultant in Health Protection at UKHSA South West, said the lifting of notices “reflects the confidence of the outbreak control team that a probable source of the contamination has been identified and mitigations are in place,” and advised those still under the boil notice to continue boiling and cooling their drinking water.

Conservative MP Anthony Mangnall, whose Totnes constituency includes Brixham, previously criticised SWW’s response to the outbreak, and said “heads are going to roll” in an interview with LBC.

Speaking to the PA news agency on Saturday, the MP said, “The predominant failure is the fact that earlier in the week, South West Water was asked whether or not this was to do with their network and they categorically ruled it out, only for them to change their position 24 hours later, which I think is contemptible and just generally incompetent—and it’s put a lot of people’s health at risk.”

Mr. Mangnall said SWW had failed to “safeguard public health” and would “be absolutely on the line” to compensate local businesses that have lost money because of the outbreak.

The MP also said he would be raising the matter in the House of Commons and with the area’s local authorities but was “absolutely determined not to jump the gun on this.”

Reacting to the lifting of boil water notices, the MP said “the illness suffered and inability to access safe drinking water has been totally unacceptable.”

He called on a “further increase in support and compensation” for those who still have to boil water, adding, “It is my priority to see this situation resolved as quickly as possible and that those who are suffering from illness receive the support they need.”

Water minister Robbie Moore said he was “still receiving regular updates” from the water company, adding: “We need South West Water to resolve this issue and ensure clean water returns to the Brixham area as soon as possible.”

SWW said it will continue to offer bottled water at three stations in the area, having so far provided 386,000 bottles of water to customers.

Residents had been urged to boil water and let it cool before drinking it, preparing or cooking food, or cleaning their teeth, although the company said water can continue to be used as normal for washing, bathing, and flushing the toilet.

The disease can be picked up directly from the faeces of another person or animal, from swimming in or drinking contaminated water, or by eating contaminated food such as unwashed vegetables.

PA Media contributed to this report.

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