Cryptosporidium outbreak blamed on 'animal waste' in Devon drinking water

Broadsands water distribution operation in response to the Cryptosporidium outbreak
Broadsands water distribution operation in response to the Cryptosporidium outbreak -Credit:Chris Slack

The likely source of the cryptosporidium outbreak in Devon has been revealed. Anthony Mangnall, the MP for Totnes, which includes the Brixham area afflicted by the vomiting bug, said that animal waste is believed to have contaminated drinking water in the area.

South West Water (SWW) announced yesterday (Wednesday, May 15) that small traces of cryptosporidium had been detected in the Hillhead area of its network as a result of a damaged air valve. Public Health said that 22 cases of the infection have been confirmed while up to 100 people have reported symptoms including stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhoea, in the last week.

As reported by Devon Live, Mr Mangnall posted on Facebook this morning (May 16) to announce the source of the outbreak after a meeting convened by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He said the valve "may have allowed animal waste or contaminated groundwater to enter the local supply".

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SWW issued a press release which stated it is working closely with the UK Health Security Agency and other public health partners to urgently investigate how cryptosporidium is getting into its network so it can be fixed. A boil water notice to around 16,000 households and businesses in the area, advising them not to use their tap water for drinking or washing without boiling and cooling it first.

The Totnes MP said: "I have just attended a meeting convened by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to receive an update from South West Water and the UK Health Security Agency. SWW believe they have located the source of the issue and initiated a fix, but are continuing their investigations and will be testing their network to ensure water is safe.

"The boil water notice is therefore likely to be in place for at least a further six or seven days, with bottled water available throughout this period. Vulnerable customers and those on the Priority Services register will continue to receive regular deliveries of bottled water, while those who are unable to access bottled water stations will be able to call SWW to receive a delivery.

"I have also been assured that all schools, care homes and non-household vulnerable customers have received deliveries of water bottles. A second bottled water station has now been set up at Freshwater Quarry Car Park and will be open until 9pm tonight.

"SWW previously confirmed that household customers issued with a Boil Water notice would receive a £15 payment, and have now agreed to pay an additional £100 compensation. Customers who pay by Direct Debit will receive £115 direct to their bank account by May 21, while those who do not have a Direct Debit arrangement will receive £115 credit on their water account.

"I am very concerned about SWW's response to this situation, as they have been slow to act and communication with customers has been very poor. This has certainly undermined trust in our water network, and I will certainly keep working with colleagues at DEFRA to ensure SWW are held to account over this issue.

"I will also work with Torbay Council, Brixham Town Council, Kevin Foster and other local stakeholders to ensure better communication with residents. My team and I are on hand to help, and have even delivered bottled water to residents this morning."

In a response to a comment on his Facebook page about the source of the contamination, he replied: "A damaged air valve in the Hillhead area, which may have allowed animal waste or contaminated ground water to enter the local supply."