Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Residents say parasite outbreak in Devon’s water network has ‘destroyed’ business

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Business owners in Devon have said the outbreak of a waterborne disease has partially “destroyed” their livelihoods – as South West Water offered residents an increased amount of compensation.

Around 16,000 households and businesses in Brixham have been told to boil their drinking water after the water company found small traces of the parasite cryptosporidium – which causes cryptosporidiosis – in the Hillhead reservoir.

What is cryptosporidiosis disease?

At least 46 people are confirmed to have the disease, while as many as 70 other cases of diarrhoea and vomiting in are also under investigation, the UK Health Security Agency said.

South West Water’s chief customer officer Laura Flowerdew told Sky News cattle manure could be the cause of the outbreak after the company identified a damaged air valve on the network in a farmer’s field.

“I understand that there are cattle in that field and therefore there’s a possibility that that is therefore the source of the contamination,” she said.

But she refused to give a timeframe on how long the incident would run on for – leaving thousands of residents facing an uncertain future.

Image:
South West Water workers at the reservoir site of Alston and Hillhead in Brixham, Devon, looking for cryptosporidium

‘Destroyed our business’

One of those is Stephen Colemansfield, owner of Redlands Guest House in Brixham, who told Sky News the outbreak has led to people cancelling their stay.

“It has destroyed our business at the moment,” he said.

“Our guests have cancelled because of the mixed messages that are being sent out by South West Water.”

Redlands Guest House in Brixham
Image:
The owner of Redlands Guest House in Brixham said people have cancelled reservations

When asked if he thinks the disruption will affect the upcoming May bank holiday weekend and subsequent school half-term, Mr Colemansfield said: “Hopefully we will be able to get guests in by then, but the problem is the messages South West Water are sending out are very mixed.”

He said he hopes to be able to welcome back guests in the next few weeks, but other businesses he has spoken to said they are “having cancellations into June”.

“The hysteria is not helping anybody, especially small businesses like ourselves,” he continued.

“We are all very concerned and there is a lot of fearmongering.

“It is actually an outbreak in a limited area of Brixham and South West Water need to get their act together and sort out what has essentially been an ongoing problem for a long time.”

At first South West Water said the supply was safe to drink, but then issued a boil notice to households and businesses in Brixham, Boohay, Kingswear, Roseland and North West Paignton.

Customers have been advised water used for drinking, cooking, preparing food or brushing teeth needs to be boiled first.

Three bottled water collection points have been set up in Brixham and Paignton. Cars were spotted queuing for more than half a mile to reach the front of the line in Brixham.

David Sneyd, a resident near the Brixham reservoir, showing Sky News a leaflet warning locals to boil their tap water.
Image:
A Brixham resident shows Sky News a leaflet warning locals to boil their tap water

‘A freak accident’

Rob, head chef at the Steam Packet Inn in Kingswear near Dartmouth, told Sky News it has all been “a bit crazy down here”.

He said South West Water have “not said anything” regarding how businesses should manage the situation – and that the outbreak may have been going on for longer than reported.

“I was hearing from so many people… it’s been going on for a week,” he said.

“I can’t wash salad in the sink,” Rob said, adding older customers are refusing to drink water, even when they’re shown it is bottled.

The Steam Packet Inn's head chef Rob told Sky News his brother-in-law was one of the 22 confirmed cases of cryptosporidiosis in South Devon. Pic: Google Street View
Image:
The Steam Packet Inn’s head chef Rob told Sky News his brother-in-law was one of the 46 confirmed cases of cryptosporidiosis in Devon

The chef said his brother-in-law is one of the 46 confirmed cases of cryptosporidiosis and has been sick for two weeks.

“I don’t blame anyone… it’s a freak incident, but [South West Water] did tell us it was safe to drink the water.”

He said water supplies have been scarce for restaurants and said the water company would “laugh in our face” if he asked for 10 litres of bottled water from one of South West Water’s three collection points.

With the Dart Music Festival just across the river this weekend, the chef said the water notice “is really going to affect us”.

Sky News has contacted the festival for comment.

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‘My wife has been ill for 16 days’

‘Truly sorry’

In a statement on Thursday, South West Water chief executive Susan Davy said she was “truly sorry” for the disruption the outbreak has caused, adding that affected customers would be compensated £115. It initially said it would pay £15.

“While incidents like these are thankfully very rare, our customers expect a safe, clean, and reliable source of drinking water. I know on this occasion we have fallen significantly short of what you expect of us,” Ms Davy said.

“All of us at South West Water live and work in the region, just like you. It is our home and a place we love. I am sorry this has happened.”

When asked if he would take the compensation, Mr Colemansfield said: “That would be the beginning, but the fact is that we have lost an awful lot of business due to the direct result of their negligence and lack of care.”

South West Water said in a post on X there is a dedicated line for affected retailers and businesses who wish to discuss any impact the incident has had.

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A No 10 spokeswoman said the prime minister “understands the stress and worry this has caused residents”.

She said the government has announced a quadrupling of inspections by the Drinking Water Inspectorate and UK Health Security Agency.

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