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Walkerton: And not a drop to drink

In May 2000, bacteria seeped into Walkerton's town well. The deadly E. coli then slipped quietly through a maze of pipes and into the homes of Walkerton, Ont. Unsuspecting residents thirstily drank the polluted water and bathed in their bacteria-ridden tubs. But soon after, they began experiencing common symptoms of infection; bloody diarrhea and throbbing cramps. Seven people would eventually die and another 1286 would fall ill. The investigation which followed exposed an alarmingly unstable waterworks system made fragile by government cuts.

Like many others in Walkerton, Bruce Davidson still hasn't turned on his taps. Five months after the boil-water advisory was issued, the warning is still in effect. This means that Davidson must wash his vegetables with bottled water. His two children take their baths at their grandmother's house in a neighbouring town. Trips to the water distribution centre have become a routine part of his day.

Walkerton residents continue to be frustrated and distressed. At a meeting of the Concerned Citizens of Walkerton, Davidson argues that the provincial government has yet to recognize the magnitude of the tragedy. "Recognize that this is a disaster," he says in this CBC Television documentary. "The houses are still standing but the people have been flattened." 
. In August 2000, new drinking water laws were passed in Ontario. "For the first time in Ontario's history, universal water quality standards, and testing and reporting requirements will have the force of law," said Environment Minister Dan Newman. The new regulations included required routine sampling and testing of water by accredited labs. These labs will be obligated to file direct and urgent reports to the ministry if the water is found to be contaminated.

. On December 5, 2000, Dr. Murray McQuigge lifted the boil-water advisory in Walkerton after the town performed a rigorous and thorough cleaning and machine upgrade. "Today's announcement means a gigantic burden has been lifted off our shoulders," Mayor Dave Thomson said at a press conference. "Today is a day for optimism."

. Walkerton residents however were still reluctant to drink the water. Carolyn Schneider, 25, told the Lethbridge Herald that she would not drink the water again. "I won't," she said. "Once bit, twice shy. I don't know how to explain it."
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Oct. 16, 2000
Guest(s): Bruce Davidson, Ronica Davidson
Host: Alison Smith
Reporter: Dan Bjarnason
Duration: 11:23

Last updated: March 26, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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