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South West Water will have ‘very hard’ questions to answer, says Health Secretary

Saturday, 18 May 2024 09:20

By Bradley Gerrard, local democracy reporter

The Man and Boy statue at Brixham Harbour (Picture by Guy Henderson)

Victoria Atkins says 46 people have officially reported symptoms of cryptosporidium, so far

The Health Secretary Victoria Atkins has said South West Water will have some “very, very hard questions” to answer once the situation with Brixham’s water-based parasite outbreak has been dealt with.

During a visit to the University of Exeter as part of nationwide plans to provide more medical school places, the Health Secretary gave the latest update on the numbers of people citing symptoms of cryptosporidium, saying that 46 people had now officially reported symptoms to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA)

It’s now understood that a faulty valve may have allowed a parasite into the water network, leading to people becoming ill.

“South West Water will have some very, very hard questions to answer, but at the moment we probably need to give them the space to conduct their investigation,” she said.

“We know they have identified the source and the public will want to know what happened, the chain of events that led to this, as we all understand the expectation is that when you turn your tap on you get clean drinking water out of it that you can trust.”

Ms Atkins, who has been Health Secretary for around six months, said South West Water, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and UKHSA, the latter of which falls under her department, were investigating the problem as a matter of urgency.

South West Water has confirmed a damaged valve has been identified which could be the cause of the issues, adding that it was doing further work to ensure this was the cause given public health was its “absolute priority”.

South West Water has issued a boil water notice for Alston and the Hillhead area, and now has three bottled water collection points at Churston Car Boot Field, Broadsands Car Park and Freshwater Quarry Car Park. All are open until 9pm and offer free water.

Ms Atkins said residents would be given financial support for bottled water that they needed to purchase.

In a statement on the firm’s website, South West Water chief executive Susan Davy, said the health and safety of residents affected was “our first and foremost priority”.

“Recent tests showed that water leaving our treatment works was clear,” she said.

“However, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, we detected small traces of cryptosporidium in the Hillhead area of Brixham.

“Working with the UK Health Security Agency, we moved quickly to issue a boil water notice to affected customers and businesses.

“Since then, our ground technicians have been working around the clock to identify the source of the contamination and rectify the situation so we can resume a normal water supply.

“While we urgently find and fix the problem, we have been delivering bottled water to vulnerable customers and to local businesses, including schools. We have also made bottled water available to residents in the local area.”

Ms Davy added that a compensation payment of £115 would be made automatically to residents due to the boil water notice.

Residents are asked to stay off work or school if they have symptoms of cryptosporidiosis, which include diarrhea, stomach cramps and dehydration.

If symptoms persist for more than seven days, they are encouraged to contact their GP.

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