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Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Walkerton E. coli Contamination

    In the year 2000, Walkerton, Ontario suffered tragedy from the worst E. coli contamination in Canada. A series of irresponsible water management was the cause of the terrible occurrence with seven deaths and 2,300 cases of illness resulting from it, and possibly some lasting effects for surviving victims, especially children. Additionally, economic impacts include that it costed a total of approximately $6.9 million, factoring costs in maintenance and suffering of the victims.
    The source of contamination was cattle manure washing into a shallow water supply well, and revealed a number of flaws in the city’s water management system when members of the community began to fall ill, as the groundwater system is depended upon by the residents. Well 5 had been contaminated by the cattle manure spread by a local farmer that had been following guidelines, however the well was not continuously monitored for adequate chlorine residual as it should have, and it is very likely that the impact of the crisis could have been reduced, if not averted. Frank Koebel was the foreman of the town Public Utilities Commission, and him and his brother Stan Koebel were both charged and pleaded guilty for public nuisance, uttering and forgery and breach of public duty, as they failed to sufficiently maintain the water at safe levels. It was stressed that neither of them had ever intended to cause harm to anyone, but was a result of negligence in their duties, and it was reported that monitoring and maintenance was in fact neglected. However, the Koebels were not the only ones responsible for monitoring the water, and other employees had received no formal training or certification, and were not prepared for the task; some reports were even falsified.
    Justice O’Connor issued several recommendations, including ensuring there is sufficient funding,  and adequate training for employees in water management. Also keeping vigilant monitoring, which could have prevented the tragedy in the first place, so that adjustments can be made to keep the water safe. Considering environmental factors was another one of his suggestions, and using multiple protection barriers including continual maintenance and inspection to keep water safety first priority in the community.

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