Thousands in Devon no longer have to boil drinking water, says supplier

<span>South West Water staff and volunteers distribute water to the public at a collection point in Brixham, Devon on Saturday.</span><span>Photograph: Hugh Hastings/Getty Images</span>
South West Water staff and volunteers distribute water to the public at a collection point in Brixham, Devon on Saturday.Photograph: Hugh Hastings/Getty Images

Thousands of people in Devon can now safely drink their tap water again without having to boil it first, the region’s water supplier has announced after a parasite outbreak.

South West Water said about 14,500 households in the Alston supply area could use their tap water safely, although about 2,500 properties in Hillhead, the upper parts of Brixham and Kingswear should continue to boil their supply before drinking it.

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

About 16,000 households and businesses in the area had been told earlier this week not to use their tap water for drinking without boiling and cooling it first.

The UK Health Security Agency said on Friday that 46 cases of cryptosporidiosis, a disease that can cause symptoms including diarrhoea and vomiting, had been confirmed in the town and that more cases were expected.

The water company said the decision on Saturday came after “rigorous testing” and was made in consultation with UKHSA and the local authority’s environmental health department.

SWW’s chief customer officer, Laura Flowerdew, 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.

“The public rightly expect a safe, clean and reliable source of drinking water and, on this occasion, we have fallen significantly short of expectations. We will not stop working until this 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.”

Related: What is cryptosporidiosis, and how can people avoid getting infected?

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

Earlier on Saturday, the Conservative MP Anthony Mangnall, whose Totnes constituency includes Brixham, warned that “heads are going to roll” over the crisis, telling LBC: “The illness suffered and inability to access safe drinking water has been totally unacceptable.

“The continued boil-water notice for residents relying on the Hillhead reservoir must be accompanied by a further increase in support and compensation from South West Water.

“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.”

The minister for water, 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.”

People had been advised to boil water and let it cool before drinking it, using it in preparing and cooking food, or cleaning their teeth, although the company said water could be used as normal for washing, bathing and flushing the toilet.

Steve Price, who runs the Station Guesthouse near Brixham, said the outbreak had caused cancellations totalling “up to £1,000” and that he had heard “nothing direct at all” from SWW.

Price told BBC Radio 4: “We’ve had to instigate any contact; there has been notifications coming from Torbay council about numbers to contact, but it’s a shame for commercial businesses because we’ve had no one come round.

Asked how much his business had lost, he said: “So far, probably anywhere from up to £1,000 in cancellations so far, which is fairly substantial.”

Sian, who runs the Sandy Toes gift shop in Brixham, said: “Lots of people are saying they won’t come down because of the water situation. Obviously, I rely heavily on tourism. If I don’t have a good tourist season, I’m in big trouble.”