Brixham mum who uncovered Cryptosporidium parasite still without safe water

Tanya Matthews at her home in Brixham, Devon
-Credit: (Image: © SWNS)

A mother who uncovered the parasite living in Brixham's water is still without a safe supply one month on. Tanya Matthews started feeling unwell on May 6 - but only started to worry about the quality of her tap water a week later.

She recalls her mouth tasting 'horrendous' as she drank more and more water while dealing with severe diarrhoea and nausea. On May 13, she phoned South West Water to report her concerns.

Ms Matthews claims the firm told her that 15 cases of cryptosporidium - a parasite - had been confirmed, but their water wasn't the cause. South West Water then discovered their water supply had been contaminated with an estimated 16K households in Devon initially told to boil their water.

That number has since reduced to 2,500 with a confirmed 100 cases. Ms Matthews said: "When I was on the school playground I heard about people being ill, I noticed there were quite a few people unwell."

"Then I started being poorly on 6 May, and then it got to 13 May and my mouth just tasted horrendous. The only thing I thought could be causing it was the water - every time I was drinking more water, the taste in my mouth got worse."

After speaking to South West Water on the phone, who denied their involvement, she posted her concerns in a local Facebook group.

The post racked up 1,200 replies from locals - many experiencing the same illness. She added: "I put my symptoms on the post and asked if anyone else was sick and feeling the same way."

"When I woke up the next morning, there were 1,200 comments from people with exactly the same symptoms as me - some with more. Because I put the post on Facebook, and I'd also put on there that I'd spoken to South West Water about the cryptosporidium, a lot of people started phoning them. I think they got inundated with so many phone calls, which then prompted them to take swifter action."

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-Credit:No credit

A South West Water staff member visited her home the following day (May 14) and took a sample of tap water for testing.

"At this point they were still telling people that the water was safe and all their tests are coming back negative", Ms Matthews continued. I was trying to tell people: don't drink it, it's not safe. But people responded by saying that South West Water have said it's fine, so we're going to carry on drinking it."

"And on Wednesday morning, they found out that there was cryptosporidium - but didn't inform the public until that afternoon. I don't know why they didn't, as a precaution, on the Monday or the Tuesday put a boil water notice on until they found out whether it was the water or not. I had severe diarrhoea, nausea all the time, horrendous stomach cramps and I felt lightheaded."

She recounted sitting on the ground when she visited the local shop and became light-headed and dizzy as she battled cryptosporidiosis.

"I had to nip to the shop to get something and when I got outside the shop I had to actually sit on the floor because I felt like I was just going to keel over. I still have days where I get stomach cramps and I still do have days where I am in the bathroom a lot. When you have diarrhoea you feel thirsty all the time, so you keep drinking - but it was actually water that was poisoning me."

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Ms Matthews said the son of a neighbour in Ocean View Drive, Brixham, was in hospital for a whole weekend on an IV drip because he was "so dehydrated".

But because cryptosporidium hadn't been confirmed at that point, he wasn't tested or treated for it. She told of how her six-year-old son has autism and loves spending time in the water - but is not suffering as a result.

"We have a hot tub in the back garden that we use to regulate my autistic six-year-old boy - but we haven't been able to use that. My six-year-old loves going under the water to count how long he can hold his breath for, but you just can't do that, you can't risk him swallowing any."

South West Water reportedly told Ms Matthews that they're treating their water with UV light and putting filters at strategic points. She added: "They've flushed the system many, many times - and they were still getting positive readings for crypto. They've done ice pigging too. The readings were coming back negative after they've done it, but today they've had a positive reading in the network again."

She told of how local tourism, the lifeblood of Brixham, has been impacted by coverage of the water scandal - with people ditching their holidays.

"I've got a neighbour who's got an Airbnb in town and she had a six-week booking through the summer holidays, and those people have cancelled it. There are a lot of restaurants and eatery places down here, they've all been affected by people cancelling because they're worried about catching crypto. But it was never ever in the town itself, so people don't need to be afraid of coming here on holiday."

South West Water said in a statement: "We appreciate this is taking time to complete and we are very sorry for the disruption and concern this is causing however, please be assured that our teams are working day and night to get this resolved."

"This level of complex and detailed operational work will continue until we are completely confident that it is safe to remove the boil water notice."

The company said it had now completed the latest stage of flushing on the Hillhead network "to remove any last residual cryptosporidium across the area"" It added it has put "multiple interventions in place" to "protect the network".