Apology for Darfield gastro outbreak

GEORGINA STYLIANOU
Last updated 14:31 29/08/2012

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Authorities are apologising after contaminated tap water left dozens of Darfield residents stricken with diarrhoea and vomiting.

The Selwyn District Council will review its systems after more than 125 Darfield residents were struck down by gastroenteritis after drinking contaminated water.

The announcement comes after Canterbury District Health Board medical officer of health Alistair Humphrey said the council needed to ''wake up to its responsibility'' and address its recurring water issues.

By yesterday there had been 22 confirmed cases of campylobacter, a nasty bacteria that causes vomiting and diarrhoea, and 128 confirmed or suspected cases of gastroenteritis.

E. coli was found in the town's drinking-water supply and a boil-water notice was issued on August 17. It was lifted four days later, but some residents did not know they had to boil their water until after the notice was lifted.

The health board is investigating.

Humphrey said more than one barrier had failed, resulting in the ''serious outbreak''.

''Intensified farming now means that a lot of water is contaminated with animal faeces, especially the Waimakariri after heavy rains. Secondly, the chlorination of this heavily contaminated water fell short of levels required to make it safe.''

He said the importance of protecting water from source to tap was ''sometimes lost in political imperatives''.

''A case in point is the failure of the Selwyn District Council to reticulate its sewerage system.''

Darfield was the largest town in the country to still rely on septic tanks and boulder holes with no reticulated sewerage system, Humphrey said.

The health board had asked the council to upgrade the region's water systems as a priority.

Council chief executive Paul Davey said the council was ''very mindful of its responsibilities'' and was ''constantly looking at ways'' to improve water quality.

He apologised to residents who had fallen ill.

''We are viewing this failure very seriously and we are undertaking both internal and external peer reviews of the incident to understand how it happened so we can mitigate future events,'' he said.

Darfield is the third Selwyn community to be issued with a boil-water notice this year.

Residents on the Malvern Hills rural water scheme were given the same warning in March and rural Glentunnel residents were warned three weeks ago.

In 2008, the Selwyn township of Springston suffered a gastroenteritis outbreak.

Davey said a reticulated sewerage system would cost about $10,000 per household.

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''There's no evidence that there's a public health risk through the perfectly functioning septic tank regime or even any call for a reticulated sewer scheme in Darfield,'' he said.

Davey said that if residents were ''prepared to spend that money'', the council would ''certainly look at how we can accommodate that''.

Darfield's deep-water well, which began operating in November, experienced a pump failure, so residents were back on chlorinated river water while it was being repaired.

The supply reverted to the well last Wednesday.

- The Press

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