Dirty water crisis could force businesses in Devon hotspot to close (2024)

Contaminated water in one of the country's most popular seaside holiday destinations could wreak havoc and force hotels and restaurants to close over the upcoming bank holiday and half term.

South West Water (SWW) yesterday urged people to boil their tap water after hundreds of people across Devon fell ill with diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach painsamid the parasite outbreak in contaminated taps.

The water company said the Hillhead reservoir and the wider Alston area are being investigated as a potential cause for the outbreak - an area which about 40,000 residents get their water supply from.

The illness is believed to be linked to cryptosporidium, a parasitic bug that causes severe stomach issues.

Local businesses have reported being affected by not being able to use tap water, saying the crisis is having a significant impact on trade.

John Ingram ofThe Bay Coffee Company in Brixham told MailOnline: 'We can't give anybody a glass of water.

'It is affecting trade - a lot more people are just not coming out.

Is YOUR business affected?Email katherine.lawton@mailonline.co.uk

South West Water unloading crates of bottled water to distribute to locals in south Devon

Shelves usually stocked with water are empty as people panic buy in a bid to avoid tap water

Locals in Brixham, Boohay, Kingswear, Roseland and north-east Paignton in Devon were all told to boil water as a precaution

Dirty tap water is seen in a glass cup in Looe

'Everyone is now worried about getting ill.' He added: 'We're trying to adapt ourselves.'

Mr Ingram said the cafe is using disposable cups instead of using the water to wash up.

Read More South West Water contamination RECAP: MP reveals 'animal waste' may have dirtied tap water in Devon with boil notice likely to remain in place for a WEEK

Those infected by the parasite outbreak could be ill for up to a month,Professor Paul Hunter told Sky News.

Meanwhile, revellers who travelled to Devon for Brixham Pirate Festival earlier in May could get sick after drinking the water.

Local Meg Dew said her friends have been ill since attending the event, which took place between May 4 and May 6.

'My 62-year-old mum called me about half an hour ago, she has a bad stomach and diarrhoea,' she said.'My friends have been ill since the Pirate Festival [...], I didn't even know until this morning that there was anything wrong with the water.'

Others also shared their fears for those who attended the pirate fest, with one writing on Facebook:'A lot of people were over in Brixham for pirate festival so people in say TQ3 might not be getting it from there water supply but caught it over that weekend.'

How can you test forcryptosporidium?

To know for sure if you've been infected - and to tell it from other infections - is to ask the doctor to test a stool sample.

Patients may be asked to submit several stool samples over several days.

Private cryptosporidium stool tests are also available online but can cost as much as £150.

According to the NHS, patients can expect results within one to three days.

Public Health Wales, however, caution that the test may 'occasionally' fail to detect cryptosporidium in a sample especially if the parasite is present in low numbers.

Negative test result 'may be obtained for someone who does indeed have Cryptosporidium infection', they say.

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Another said: 'I didn't go thankfully but I did read about a woman who said she was ill since the festival.'

Meanwhile, a school has been forced to shut and people are panic buying water from supermarkets after hundreds of people were struck down by an illness calledcryptosporidium.

Locals in Brixham, Boohay, Kingswear, Roseland and north-east Paignton in Devon were all told to boil water as a precaution - including when drinking it or using it to cook with and brush teeth - as bottled water stations were set up yesterday to provide clean, safe water for residents to take home.

Eden Park Primary School in Brixham told parents last night they would not be opening this morning after they claimed South West Water did not supply them with bottled water.

The water board initially claimed its treatment works were not to blame but has since backtracked - prompting fury from localToryMP Anthony Mangnall, who said its initial failure to act had been 'enormously frustrating'.

Locals who believe they have been struck down by the parasite, which can be eradicated by boiling water, have told of severe stomach cramps, dehydration, high fevers and 'explosive diarrhoea' that have crippled them and their families.

Cryptosporidium can be found in the intestines and faeces of infected humans and animals. The parasite can be ingested by swimming in or drinking contaminated water as well as other sources such as contaminated food.

It can lead to the disease cryptosporidiosis, which is believed to be affecting many people in Brixham, and causes fever, a loss of appetite, diarrhoea and vomiting. The NHS says most people recover within a month, if not less.

Twenty-two cases of the bug, which is caused by a parasite, have been confirmed in Brixham with a further 70 under investigation.

Eden Park Primary School in Brixham confirmed they would not open today following the outbreak

South West Water has set up bottled water stops for residents to pick up water if they are unable to boil it at home

Lisa Allen(pictured) has been suffering from the painful affects of cryptosporidium for nearly two weeks

Another local, Mary (right), bought bottled water for those unable to travel to a distribution station four miles away by car

People who attended Brixham Pirate Festival this month might start to feel ill from drinking Devon water

Eden Park Primary School in Brixham announced yesterday evening that it would not be opening to pupils today following the outbreak.

The statement read: 'Eden Park Primary School were only informed this afternoon that the school was in an area where the tap water should be boiled.

'The school have taken swift action to put safety plans in place and contact the appropriate authorities about providing safe drinking water.

How South West Water became one of UK's worst water firms

South West Water admitted finding 'small traces' of cryptosporidium in the water yesterday - marking the latest in a string of issues to hit the company after hundreds of locals complained of feeling unwell.

The water company spilled for 530,737 hours last year after 58,249 overflow incidents, it was revealed in March. This is an average of 390 hours per storm overflow and 43 per site.

Meanwhile, it was recently revealed one woman is suing South West Water over sewage discharged into the sea which she claims have harmed her health and stopped her daily swims.

Before New Year's Eve, a sewer burst in Exmouth, Exeter, resulting in 240 tanker-loads of sewage being driven from the town in East Devon each day by South West Water as the burst pipes were repaired.

On Boxing Day 2023, footage showed filthy water flooding onto a popular Cornish beach - just hours after locals enjoyed a festive swim there.

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'At the time of writing this update (7.30pm), and despite repeated calls to South West Water about the urgency of the situation, the school has not received any bottled water or assurances of when water will be delivered. To enable parents and carers to make childcare plans for the morning, leaders have made the difficult decision to close the school tomorrow, Thursday 16th May.

'All Year 6 children should attend the school as usual, to complete their final SATs paper in the morning. They should bring their own full water bottle and be collected at 11:15am. The school will also provide bottled water for children and staff in school tomorrow. No other children should attend the school.

'A further update will be provided tomorrow afternoon, regarding the opening the school on Friday 17th May. Thank you for understanding with this rapidly changing situation.'

Locals Lewis, Izzy and Lisa Allen have been suffering from the painful affects ofcryptosporidium for nearly two weeks.

Lisa told Good Morning Britain: 'I've just got no energy, really bad stomach cramps, a headache.

'I've met lots of elderly people today who weren't even aware that they shouldn't be drinking the water and they were all ill.'

Another local, Mary, bought bottled water for those unable to travel to a distribution station four miles away by car.

'There are a lot of people who are disabled, vulnerable, elderly - they can't get to these places, so I thought I'd do my bit,' she said.

Dr Lincoln Sargeant, director of public health for Torbay, BBC Radio 4's Today programme he is 'optimistic' about the outbreak being under control.

He said: 'This was reported as an outbreak on Tuesday morning and by Wednesday we had a credible source that it was likely to be a reservoir serving the TQ5 postcode such as Brixham and neighbouring areas.

'South West Water has been investigating and continues to test. This is of course an ongoing situation, but we are pretty certain at this point with the boil water notice and ongoing investigation and remediation of water supply there that the primary source would have stopped.

'What we are now focusing on is making sure we don't have any spread from those initial cases.'

South West Water handing out emergency rations of bottled water to those affected by the Cryptosporidium outbreak

SWW handing out bottles of water to those who cannot boil their tap water

People took to social media to reveal empty shelves in Morrisons due to people panic buying water

Dr Sargeant added that the full picture on how the cryptosporidium got into the water supply will come after probes have been completed.

'The definitive answers to that [why the disease hit this area] will come when South West Water will be able to do their investigations.

'Cryptosporidium exists in the environment.Sometimes when you have lots of rain it might get into the water system but usually through rigorous testing and water treatment it is usually picked up.

'We are very optimistic [it is under control]. Some of the key measures such as identifying the primary source - that is in hand.'

It is thought hundreds of residents are experiencing a range of symptoms including watery diarrhoea, stomach pains, nausea or vomiting, a mild fever, and loss of appetite.

Locals told MailOnline symptoms began among some around two weeks ago.

Retiree Kathy Hudson, 67, said: 'I have been ill since last week with cramps, diarrhoea, sickness and dizziness. My daughter-in-law has also got ill.

'I don't want to know what is in the water I have been drinking but now they are saying not to wash your hands, can you shower? What's it going to do to you?

'I have been coming out with terrible eczema in the last couple of weeks which I haven't in ages.'

Brixham Pirate Festival happened earlier this month, with some locals saying they fell ill earlier than that

To make matters worse Kathy says she hasn't been able to buy any bottled water as panic buyers have stripped shelves in the town's supermarkets.

She added: 'There is no water left in any of the shops in town.

'I think South West Water made a mess for themselves by saying yesterday there was nothing wrong with the water and to keep drinking it. They should've been testing the water before it happened.'

Karen Chapman, 65, said: 'I only found out yesterday and I drink squash with tap water all day.

'I pay a lot of money for water and it's going up but you can't even drink it, plus electricity is sky high so it costs to boil the water every time you want to drink it.

'I have had no water all day because everywhere is sold out of bottles. It reminds me of the panic buying toilet rolls during Covid.'

Brixham resident Meg Dew said: 'My 62-year-old mum called me about half an hour ago, she has a bad stomach and diarrhoea.

'My friends have been ill since the Pirate Festival (4th to 6th May), I didn't even know until this morning that there was anything wrong with the water.

'South West Water needs to sort it out, bills are high but for nothing.'

A South West Water spokesperson said: 'Customers in Alston and the Hillhead area of Brixham are advised to boil their drinking water before consuming following new test results for cryptosporidium.

'We are issuing this notice following small traces of the organism identified overnight and this morning.

'We are working with the UK Health Security Agency and other public health partners to urgently investigate and eliminate the source.

'We apologise for the inconvenience caused and will continue to keep customers and businesses updated. Bottled water stations will be set up in the affected areas as soon as possible.'

How to tell if you'vebeen infected with cryptosporidium

Commonly known as 'crypto', cryptosporidium can infect the digestive system of animals and people.

Once there it causes symptoms like watery diarrhoea, stomach pain, vomiting, a fever, and loss of appetite.

Medics technically call this disease cryptosporidiosis.

Sufferers often have to endure these symptoms for two weeks before it is finally clear from their systems, but bouts of illness can last even longer, particularly in people with weakened immune systems like cancer patients.

Victims can also experience periods of false hope where their symptoms clear for a few days, making them believe they are finally over the infection, only for it to return.

Most people aren't offered treatment for crypto and instead are told to drink plenty of fluids and minimise contact with other people while waiting until symptoms pass.

People are typically infected with Crypto via contact with faeces containing the parasite, either from humans or animals that then enters their mouth.

These infected faeces can contaminate lakes, streams, swimming pools and, as appears to be the case in Devon, water supplies.

Risk of water supplies becoming infected is higher following periods of heavy rainfall and when animals are giving birth, such as the lambing season.

People can also get it by caring for people infected with crypto, particularly young children.

This can occur when people change a nappy and then put their hands near or in their mouth without washing them thoroughly, for example.

Other possible sources of infection are contact with infected milk, or from vegetables that have been fertilised with infected animal manure and not washed thoroughly.

Those infected by crypto are advised to take several steps to minimise passing the parasite on to other people in their household.

This includes washing dirty clothes, bedding and towels on the hottest setting, and not preparing food others until you have been symptom-free for at least 48 hours if possible.

The infected are also advised to stay off work and school until they have been symptom-free for at least two days.

As crypto can survive in faecal matter for long periods of time sufferers are asked not to go swimming until two weeks after their diarrhoea has stopped.

This includes both natural bodies of water as well as swimming pools as traces of infected dried poo can wash off an infected swimmer's anus.

Infected people can shed up to 100million cryptosporidium germs in a single bowel movement, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

And swallowing just 10 is enough to get ill.

In regard to the current outbreak, UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said 22 cases of cryptosporidium infection been confirmed in the town of Brixham, Devon.

Residents have been told to boil the water to try and avoid contracting infection.

The water supplier for the area, South West Water, said 'small traces' of the parasite cryptosporidium, were found in the water supplies in Brixham.

UKHSA is leading an investigation into the outbreak. People living in two different areas have now been told to boil their tap water before drinking it, and bottled water stations are being set up.

Dirty water crisis could force businesses in Devon hotspot to close (2024)

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