Investigation of E. coli outbreak continues

WALKERTON, ONTARIO — Canadian police and health officials are still investigating how wells in this town 90 miles west of Toronto were infected with E. coli, which has sickened hundreds and killed at least five people. Police also are investigating whether local officials broke laws by failing to report water problems immediately.

Meanwhile, Ontario’s environmental minister, Dan Newman, announced new regulations that would require all of the province’s municipalities to use accredited water-testing labs and to inform the government when hiring a new, private testing firm, according to The Associated Press.

Water plants also would be reviewed and certified every three years, and the ministry would clarify procedures requiring laboratories to notify health officials, city officials and the environment ministry of irregularities.

As of Sunday, the number of people getting sick from the bacteria found in the water supply has decreased. However, officials said several of the hospitalized patients may still die.

E. coli, spread through human and animal feces, may have entered Walkerton’s wells in flooding that followed a storm May 12. City officials said that a chlorinating system on one of the town’s two main wells was malfunctioning for weeks before residents started getting sick.

A provincial water agency took control of the local water utility last week after it was disclosed that the utility knew as early as May 18 about the contamination. A boil-water order was issued for Walkerton May 21 after residents reported illnesses.

One class action lawsuit already has been filed, accusing local officials of failing to promptly notify Walkerton residents of the contamination.

Two nearby communities, Wingham and Freelton, also have found E. coli contamination in water supplies. In Wingham, the contamination was found in a school, which has since been shut down. Freelton was placed under a boil-water order after traces of the bacteria was found in its water.

However, neither case apparently is linked to the Walkerton contamination.

Trucks carrying bottled water moved through Walkerton Sunday, with volunteers carrying the donated cases to doorsteps in some areas.

Copyright 2000 National Trade Publications, Inc. 

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