'Whole' of UK 'at risk' from same bug that infiltrated Devon tap water

The dangerous pathogens that could be lurking in your tap water have been revealed as hundreds fall ill in Devon. The whole of the UK is at risk from the same bug that infiltrated the tap water across Devon, causing illness and forcing homes to stop drinking tap water and instead have to rely on bottles.

As part of an annual investigation by the government's Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI), investigators found that 34 E. coli and Enterococci breaches took place in England and Wales in 2022. The data shows that twelve breaches were recorded in the Northwest area served by Severn Trent Water, with Anglian Water second on six, and Essex, Suffolk and Northumbrian having four.

Professor Paul Hunter, from the University of East Anglia, said: "They are generally not hazardous in themselves but are an indication that the water could have been contaminated by faecal matter. There are some types of E.coli that can cause potentially severe diarrhoea, but the most common type of this often wouldn't show as a positive even if present.

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"So the presence of an indicator E.coli or Enterococcus does not mean that disease-causing bacteria are present just that we cannot say they are absent. You could probably drink water with quite a few indicator bacteria in it without getting sick."

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.

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.”

The study also found high levels of arsenic in water supplies, while aluminium was also found at "unsafe levels". Lead and nickel were als found.